Monday, April 03, 2006

The Fountain Of Health

TechnologyReview has an article on current trends in anti aging research. The article touches on the familiar topic of caloric restriction, the consequences thereof and other things.

What caught my eye, however, was this:

Up until a decade or so ago, most biologists believed that the aging process was not only immensely complex but also inevitable. People aged, they assumed, much the way an old car does: eventually, everything just falls apart. Then in the early 1990s, Cynthia Kenyon, a young molecular biologist at the University of California, San Francisco, found that mutating a single gene, called daf-2, in worms doubled their life spans. Before the discovery, says Kenyon, "everyone thought aging just happened. To control aging, you had to fix everything, so it was impossible." Kenyon's research suggested a compelling alternative: that a relatively simple genetic network controlled the rate of aging.

The race to find the genetic fountain of youth was on. Within a few years, Leonard Guarente, a biologist at MIT, found that in yeast, another gene produced a similar dramatic increase in life span. Soon after, Guarente and his MIT coworkers made another startling discovery: the yeast antiaging gene, called sir2, required for its activity a common molecule that is involved in numerous metabolic reactions. Guarente, it seemed, had found a possible connection between an antiaging gene and diet. The gene, Guarente thought, might be responsible for the health benefits of calorie restriction; and indeed, the lab soon confirmed that calorie restriction in yeast had life-extending effects only when sir2 was present.

Not too long ago, in the mid ninetees, my own biology teacher at the time explained to us that the reason why we age is wear and tear. Now, it is becoming more and more clear that the aging process is a programmed process, and that it can be tweaked to our advantage.

Curing aging is not the gargantuan and impossible task that some uninformed people would have you believed. It's way simpler than that. Still a big task, but nowhere even close to impossible.

Also see The Quest For Immortality.

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