Will humans live to be 200 years old? 500? 1,000 years old? Here is one scientist who is optimistic:
The scientist is studying a 17-year-old girl named Brooke Greenberg whose development stopped:
16 pounds and 31 inches long, about the size of a one year old... Her bones are those of a 10 year old. And she still has baby teeth, which resemble those of a first-grader.
"If we could identify the locus of her mutation, it gives me and my colleagues the opportunity to manipulate these genes and see if we can sustain youthful vitality, anatomy and physiology for unusually long periods of time," said Richard Walker, a neuroendocrinologist of aging, now retired from the University of South Florida School of Medicine. "These genes are elusive and hard to find. With her mutation, we might be able to do that."
Walker is now looking for the mutations that have interrupted Brooke's development in such uneven ways.
Finding the source of damage, he hopes, might lead researchers to the master genes that control development. By controlling those genes in early adulthood, instead of in infancy like Brooke, scientists might then be able to preserve a 25-year-old's vitality in people long past retirement age.
"If I am right, we would cease to experience biological aging," Walker said. "We could still die. We just wouldn't get old. The diseases of aging would be avoided. Life span could be extended perhaps more than thousands of years."
"Thousands of years" sounds pretty optimistic. Although I really think people will be discarding their bodies before we ever get to that point.
He talks about finding the genes that control aging. One way to do that is to study a unique case, like Brooke's. Another is to look across large numbers of people and find both common and uncommon genes. That is the focus of this effort:
The long-awaited results from the pilot phase of the first large-scale initiative to sequence individual genomes have identified 95% of the variation found across the human genome and revealed some 15 million gene variants, more than half of which had never been observed before. The data represent the most thorough effort so far to understand the depth of genetic differences between individuals and populations, but the results also highlight the fact that there is still an enormous amount left to learn.
In the meantime, with our lasts-about-100-years bodies, what are we supposed to do? Walk, apparently:
Lifestyle choices made in midlife can have a major impact on your functional ability late in life, he emphasized. If you begin a daily walking program at age 45, he said, you could delay immobility to 90 and beyond. If you become a couch potato at 45 and remain so, immobility can encroach as early as 60.
“It's not like we're prescribing chemotherapy — it's walking,” Dr. Lachs said. “Even the smallest interventions can produce substantial benefits” and “significantly delay your date with disability.”
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