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I'm Not Dead Yet

By strepsil in Culture
Sat Dec 16, 2000 at 04:20:01 AM EST
Tags: Technology (all tags)

Researchers have recently discovered a gene that they have named INDY (I'm Not Dead Yet) which, when mutated, increased the lifespan of fruit files by about 50 percent. That's all well and good if you really like fruit flies, but the interesting thing is that humans have the same gene.

So what if we could suddenly double our life spans? A technology like this, especially in the current climate where attitudes toward genetic manipulation are divided at best, would take a very long time to become available to the general public. How badly do you want to live?

The biggest problem with delaying something like this is that it's of more benefit to you the earlier you get it. The longer we wait for anti-aging treatments, the less we get out of them. Of course, the sooner you get hold of one, the more likely it is that you'll live to see the next one. It's actually becoming feasable that you could never die (from age related causes, anyway - curing diseases is another matter entirely).

So let's play hypotheticals for a moment. Assume that some scientist who doesn't want to die develops a treatment based on this research. It'll probably do what we expect, but it hasn't had the exhaustive testing necessary to be sure. The testing, by the very nature of the problem, will take an awfully long time - so long that the value of the treatment to its developer will be minimal.

Do you want this treatment? It might do terrible things, including killing you. It may do nothing. And it may give you a substantially longer life. Or do you walk away and hope that maybe something better will come along before they stick you in the ground?

Are you prepared to go double or nothing with your life?


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I'm Not Dead Yet | 32 comments (27 topical, 5 editorial, 1 hidden)
Life extension (2.00 / 5) (#2)
by Signal 11 on Fri Dec 15, 2000 at 10:59:10 PM EST

Sure, as long as the scientific community concludes there is a low risk. I'd rather temporarily leave the country, get the treatment, and come back, rather than waiting for the FDA to approve it. As long as there was a low risk of adverse effects, say, less than 5%, I would go for it.

Society needs therapy. It's having
trouble accepting itself.
I doubt... (3.40 / 5) (#4)
by Inoshiro on Fri Dec 15, 2000 at 11:03:55 PM EST

I doubt the only cause of death will be disease. There are certain genes/enzymes at the end of the DNA strands in the nucleuses in our cells that are reduced every time the cell divides. Nothing will replenish that, only reduce the amount wasted each time the cell goes through meitosis. Given the genetic makeup of average people, and baring death from accident or diease, 120 years is the maximum you can hope to achieve.

I don't know why people always get so uptight about death. When you're dead, you're dead. When you're alive, you should live and enjoy life. I don't think there's a huge need to extend life if you stick to a plan, and do all the things you intend to do in the time you're alive.

[ イノシロ ]
You are partly correct, but (3.00 / 2) (#13)
by yuri on Sat Dec 16, 2000 at 01:19:30 AM EST

The enzymes you refer to are known as telomerases, every time your DNA replicates we lose a a little section of the telomeres (the termini of our chromosomes). Telomerases replace the ends of the chromosomes. Chromosomes without functioning termini, cannot replicate. Telomeres have a finite length and with every cell division, they shorten a little bit. When they get to short to function the cell cannot replicate it's DNA. This explains the phenomenon that mamallian cells can only be grown in test tubes for 40-50 generations before they cease to function. Cancer cells overexpress telomerase and can replicate indefinately as the ends of the chromosomes never become too short.

However, this is not what kills you. The more food you eat, the more you generate free radicals in metabolizing your food. The free radicals cause DNA mutations. Mutations collect and cause your cells to function improperly. Accumulate enough of these mutations and you die...of natural causes. Hence, the less you eat, the fewer the free radicals produced, the lower the mutations, the longer you live.

This has been known for a long time. Mice that are fed a complete but limited diet live 30% longer than mice that eat all they want.

Cancer cells can live forever by selfishly fixing the problem with the ends of their telomeres but an organism composed of trillions of cells needs each one to act for the benefit of the whole. Life span has an inherent limit related to accumulation of mutations. Diet is important!



[ Parent ]
test tube tests that re-grow telomerase (none / 0) (#25)
by speek on Sat Dec 16, 2000 at 06:21:50 PM EST

There have also been successful test tube tests with some chemical that succeeded in regenerating the telomerase at the ends of chromosomes.

al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees
[ Parent ]

not yet (3.66 / 3) (#5)
by joto on Fri Dec 15, 2000 at 11:06:42 PM EST

If the gene exists in both humans and fruitflies, chances are it exists in most other animals as well. I would prefer to have it tested on some closer relatives first. Pigs, monkeys, dogs, cats, rats, mice, donkeys, and just about any mammal have much shorter lifespan than humans. If they tested succesfully on those without other side-effects, I'd be happy to volunteer.

But there most likely are other side-effects. " For example, he said, restricting calories decreases estrogen and testosterone production, it increases the levels of stress hormones, it increases the production of a class of stress-related proteins called heat shock proteins, and it slows the rate of cell turnover. The discovery of this single altered gene, Dr. Austad said, "gives us something quite specific that we can look at quite easily." This doesn't sound to fun, I don't want to be impotent and stressed even if I could live longer

In the meantime, you could just starve yourself, as the article suggests, but personally, I would rather live a happy life...

Scientists have suspected this for a while (3.66 / 3) (#8)
by skim123 on Fri Dec 15, 2000 at 11:36:58 PM EST

Scientists have shown that mammals that they have live on meager diets in cold environments have longer life spans than those that eat normal amounts of food and are placed in their normal environment. Of course, one has the decide if they'd rather live a hungry, cold, longer life, or if they'd rather be fat and warm but die sooner. Personally, I opt for the latter.

Money is in some respects like fire; it is a very excellent servant but a terrible master.
PT Barnum

Definitely (4.28 / 7) (#10)
by theboz on Fri Dec 15, 2000 at 11:54:18 PM EST

Yesterday I attended the funeral of my grandfather. I was very close to him and it made me very angry that he died so suddenly at 76. I saw how profound of an effect it had on my family. My grandmother, mother, aunts and uncles, cousins, brother and sisters all were very depressed and in pain because of the loss. I notice some people on here look at death selfishly and say, "Well, when I'm dead I won't care anymore. I want to go naturally." I would not want to be hooked up to machines to survive, however, if there is a treatment that I could get, whether an injection, pill, or whatever that would extend my life I would do it. I am 23 and made some decisions based on observations from the past week. Other than wanting to live as long as possible for my loved ones, I decided that it is best to have a lot of children. I saw how my mom and her siblings came together and were able to help each other through a hard time and to support their mother to deal with the death of her husband. I am beginning that path, I may get engaged very soon. I don't want my girlfriend to go through what my grandmother went through without anyone to help her, and I would like to put off that date as soon as possible. Death is not a friend, and despite what we are taught through our religions and culture sometimes, the only improvements I have seen have been based on science. I don't know if there is an afterlife. I would like it very much if there is, however until then I would like to work with what I have available here and now. I want cloning, genetic manipulation, and all the things people say are immoral but I say they are necessary. I loved my grandfather, and if this technology were available years ago, he could have taken it and would still be here today.

Those of you with misguided principles need to look at the greater good rather than that of ancient religious beliefs. If there is a God, he surely must have wanted us to find and use this technology to live longer and happier lives, otherwise he would not have made it. Right?


A lot of children? (3.50 / 4) (#11)
by fluffy grue on Fri Dec 15, 2000 at 11:58:50 PM EST

The corrolary to your reasoning for having lots of children is that you shouldn't have any children, so that nobody will have to suffer at all when you die, which seems like a much better way to go about minimizing suffering than by flooding the world with more people...
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

..to minimise suffering or to maximise happiness? (5.00 / 1) (#18)
by daani on Sat Dec 16, 2000 at 09:51:31 AM EST

Is the purpose of life to minimise suffering or to maximise happiness?

[ Parent ]
Religion and death (none / 0) (#19)
by hexmode on Sat Dec 16, 2000 at 11:53:15 AM EST

Sure, I'm religious (just look at the books I read!), but I don't take death lightly. I've watched both of my grandmothers die and my grandfather on my father's side. I've had close friends get shot in the back and killed. Death is not something I take lightly.

However, while I'm not anxious to die, I couldn't disagree more with the statement that the only improvements I have seen have been based on science. Science will not stop death. Science will not help you deal with your grandfather's death.

In fact, science can't improve anything.

Science discovers or develops tools that we can use, but we have to use those tools appropriately to improve our lives. That requires a guiding philosopy — religion, for some — to help you make choices. If your philosophy is a materialistic "death is the end and science is the savior" one, then you will almost assuradly take advantage of any life-prolonging treatments without considering whether or not those treatments would actually improve your life.

Now, this may seem like a cop-out if you are a materialist, but if your guiding philosophy is like mine — death is a step along the way, but not the end — then you will carefully consider whether extending your life here and now is worth the risks. After all, if I do not fear death, then I may have a reason to avoid a prolonged life where much of the added length is lived in pain.

Through science and its discoveries, we've been able to do some pretty amazing stuff over the past hundred or so years. However, while our knowlege has increased, our foolishness has not decreased.

[ Parent ]

The only problem (none / 0) (#21)
by CyberQuog on Sat Dec 16, 2000 at 01:30:41 PM EST

If you take this treatment, but your loved ones don't, then you end up outliving everyone else, and experiencing more pain than good. On another point, if everyone takes it, and it costs them money, there will then end up being two subclasses of humans. The rich who can afford it, and the poor who can't, and the two will actually be genetically different.

[ Parent ]
minor offtopic nit (none / 0) (#22)
by Freshmkr on Sat Dec 16, 2000 at 02:47:00 PM EST

I've always chafed at statements like these:

If there is a God, he surely must have wanted us to find and use this technology to live longer and happier lives, otherwise he would not have made it. Right?

I've heard this argument plenty of times - one memorable and disgusting moment was when a 13-year-old student at my former school was trying to justify his use of various hard drugs to me. This sort of statement is tantamount to, "well, I can do it, therefore it's OK that I do do it.

I am not an atheist, nor do I necessarily disagree with what you are saying. Even so, consider the notion that surely if God had not wanted us to blow ourselves up with such horrific efficiency, He would not have left all that uranium ore lying around.


[ Parent ]

big explosions (none / 0) (#26)
by Delirium on Sun Dec 17, 2000 at 03:46:53 AM EST

consider the notion that surely if God had not wanted us to blow ourselves up with such horrific efficiency, He would not have left all that uranium ore lying around.

Exactly. Which is why we should blow up the earth and all its inhabitants with nuclear weapons as soon as possible. I would be doing so myself except that I don't have any nuclear weapons.

[ Parent ]

Re: Definitely (4.00 / 1) (#24)
by bemann on Sat Dec 16, 2000 at 05:30:18 PM EST

No, you shouldn't have lots of children. Actually, ideally, you should have *NO* children. There are already enough people, and many of them will have kids, and therefore will contribute to the overpopulation of the Earth. Having more than two kids is only a good idea once efficient interplanetary and or interstellar colonization begins. Before we begin sending people off to other planets and begin mining asteroids and other planets, there will be a limited amount of room on Earth and a limited amount of resources on Earth.

[ Parent ]
As interesting as this sounds . . . (2.66 / 3) (#12)
by the_idoru on Sat Dec 16, 2000 at 12:22:57 AM EST

the question you are posing us to discuss is hardly new.

there has always been an ethical debate as to whether or not terminally ill patients (far more extreme that "i want to live longer") should be allowed access to experimental cures for their illnesses. this was a big deal when aids was getting so much press 5, 10, 15 years ago and there was rampant research into possible treatments. patients with full-blown aids were lining up for highly experimental drugs that might promise some type of help.

An interesting question (3.75 / 4) (#14)
by kumquat on Sat Dec 16, 2000 at 04:25:26 AM EST

The gene treatment actually is believed to achieve the same result as decreasing calorie intake. The flies didn't process as many calories as normal due to the absence of the gene, and this is believed to be why their life spans doubled.

The possibility of life extension via a reduced diet has been around for awhile and has a small group of practitioners. They tend to be viewed as an extremist fringe group, so a partial answer to your question is that most people aren't willing to take that plunge if it requires a significant lifestyle change.

If a lower calorie diet will make you live longer, that won't in and of itself cause most people to choose to do so. What would turn this into a significant cultural change would be the ability to achieve the same results without changing your diet. Tell the average couch potato that they can live to be 160 while still stuffing their face with nachos and it becomes an entirely different scenario.

People balance quality vs. length of life all the time. If gene therapy becomes routine we'll all sign up, but we won't give up cheesecake no matter how many years it adds.

Important Gene Found! (2.50 / 2) (#15)
by malikcoates on Sat Dec 16, 2000 at 04:32:36 AM EST

A New gene has been found. Apparently it makes it twice as hard to live, and lets you live twice as long. It turns off some of the enzymes used to digest food, so that you would basically have to eat twice as much as a normal person to get the same amount of nutritional benfit. Scientists are very excited about this gene, there is a belief they may be able to find a gene which will make it 4 times as hard to survive, instead of only double.

I'm not convinced... (3.00 / 2) (#16)
by pb on Sat Dec 16, 2000 at 05:47:01 AM EST

Even if we did figure out a way to prolong our lives substantially, I'm not convinced that I would want it. Once the quality of life goes below a certain level, I think I'd stop caring about tomorrow, let alone another 40 years.

Anyone read "Holy Fire"? That had great examples in it of how long-lived, cautious people with no real quality of life were really missing out compared to the oppressed reckless youths who enjoyed life...
"See what the drooling, ravening, flesh-eating hordes^W^W^W^WKuro5hin.org readers have to say."
-- pwhysall
Won't somebody please think of the... taxes? (3.00 / 4) (#17)
by Matt Hall on Sat Dec 16, 2000 at 06:24:47 AM EST

The Social Security tax is already slated to rise on up to around 25% as baby boomers retire. Imagine the rates if suddenly everybody lived to 120! Boy, you think ol' Uncle Sam takes a giant chunk of your hard-earned money now (estimated at about 49-51% on net)... just wait 'til there are 10 retirees to every worker.

I sure would (3.66 / 3) (#20)
by MrSpey on Sat Dec 16, 2000 at 12:18:23 PM EST

Let's assume the treatment is created and seems to be working well. People who undergo it seem to be healthily living to at least their normal life span with little or no adverse effects. If I had the option, I'd also undergo this treatment, and so would my fiance and my immediate family (at least I hope they would. I don't want to live longer just to watch the people I love die).

I think I wouldn't become afflicted with ennui mainly because of how much there is to learn. As it is, I learn about things I'm curious about at a rate that is slower than the rate at which new information that I want to know is being created. I can't imagine what new ideas will be thought up and new facts will be discovered within the next fifty years, never mind how efficient information dissemination will be. And in the unlikely event that I become bored with learning, bored with experiencing new experiences, bored with reading new books and watching new TV shows and movies, I can just kill myself.

Seriously. People always talk about how living substantially longer will eventually give us a society of really bored people who just sit around all day and don't have any interest in anything at all. If I ever get tired of waking up in the morning, tired of going to be at night, and sick of everything in between, I always have the possibility of taking my own life. It's certainly not something I want to do anytime in the foreseeable future, but if I'm 250 years old and just don't have any reason to stay alive anymore, it's not like I'm gypping myself out of any time on earth. I like to think that if I ever actually was 250 years old and was too bored to want to live I'd manage to find something that piques my interest. However, if people start living for multiple centuries, we aren't guaranteed to have a society of bored couch potatoes (well, any moreso than we do already).

Mr. Spey
Cover your butt. Bernard is watching.

overpopulation (4.25 / 4) (#23)
by kubalaa on Sat Dec 16, 2000 at 04:45:45 PM EST

I'm surprised nobody's mentioned this. Does it occur to anybody how much it would SUCK if not only did people have a longer reproductive span, hence made more babies, but also took longer to die?

The current problem with population growth is directly related to the development of real medical science in the last two centuries. It used to be you'd have three babies but two would die, and if you were a woman you'd probably die in childbirth. Large families were important because they didn't stay large for long. Nowadays, of course, people in 3rd-world cultures still feel obligated to have 20 kids but most of them survive.

(Yes, I know poor people don't have the same access to medicine that the rich do, but there are generally fewer big epedimics, and even among the relatively poor I'm sure the average lifespan is up around 50-something, 15 years higher than it was a few hundred years ago. Plus it's not the very poor that are having all the babies -- they're to undernourished to ovulate -- it's the middle classes.)

The same is true of wellfare. In nature, anybody that can't feed themselves dies and that's one less person making kids that use up resources.

Lengthening lifespans by this magnitude will only aggravate the problem. Before we even think about developing this technology we need to find an equally effective way to stop people from having babies.

Oh yeah, and I wouldn't get too excited about this, AFAIK they're nowhere near finding an effective way of doing large-scale gene therapy such that you could be refitted with this modification. At best they'll probably be able to set your kids up with it.

don't worry too much (none / 0) (#28)
by daani on Mon Dec 18, 2000 at 01:02:09 AM EST

The antidote to overpopulation seems to be living standard. Wealthier people tend to form families later and have fewer children. I know that here in Australia our population would be decreasing if not for immigration. And given a choice between saving for gene therapy and the kids collegy funds, I am afraid that even more people would choose not to have children.

Don't really know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. Guess it's none of my business really.


[ Parent ]
re: overpopulation (none / 0) (#30)
by kubalaa on Wed Dec 20, 2000 at 12:38:41 PM EST

Unfortunately, we're in something of a catch-22. Because there are so many people, it's well-nigh impossible to create a uniformly high standard of living. Most of the world is not Australia; the majority of people are poor. The problem, as I said in the first post, is a combination of low standard of living and culture. The people making the most babies are the upper-lower classes in 3rd-world countries, who are not so poor that they are malnourished, but are not exposed to things like sex education and contraceptives. Their choice isn't between college funds and gene therapy, it's between having another kid to help with house- and field- work or not.

[ Parent ]
re: overpopulation (none / 0) (#31)
by daani on Thu Dec 21, 2000 at 02:18:01 AM EST

OK, I think we're pretty much in agreement. I might of missed the point of what you said first time round.

I would probably argue that the fact that the 3rd world produces more offspring than the first is predominantly to do with economics though, not really culture at all. Offer "them" the choice between college funds and gene therapy, and "they" will probably make the same choice "we" might.

Anyway thanks for the clarification.

PS: I have no hard proof, but IMHO this is a self-perpetuating myth: "it's well-nigh impossible to create a uniformly high standard of living".

[ Parent ]
life death and laziness (2.00 / 3) (#27)
by Delirium on Sun Dec 17, 2000 at 03:48:31 AM EST

A third of the world is trying to avoid death, a third of the world is trying to commit suicide, and the remaining third are too lazy to do either.

I think it would make us leave our cradle.. (none / 0) (#32)
by oobeist on Sat Dec 23, 2000 at 10:34:06 PM EST

I think it would make us want to leave our cradle..the Earth, and begin to make some serious steps into space.. not just with the purpose of exploiting other planets and bringing the spoils back to earth, but instead, looking for possible homes... Imagine if you had a strong possibility of living to 250. I think I would want to see the stars..up close..

Space travel would give us a really good reason to want to live much longer.. Interstellar travel takes a long time..(using the technologies that we know of now..) Did you know that now something like 250 nearby stars are known to have planets orbiting them?


I'm Not Dead Yet | 32 comments (27 topical, 5 editorial, 1 hidden)
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