Quotes From the PopSci Aubrey de Grey Profile

I'll give the Aubrey de Grey profile at PopSci a mention at the Longevity Meme tomorrow (wider human audience, fewer machine aggregators), but in the meanwhile here are some good quotes for you:

Aubrey de Grey's ideas are often met with skepticism, but, he says, "I haven't been thrown out of any rooms yet."


Aubrey de Grey has no victory pronouncements to make as of yet, but he is vigorously pursuing an even more challenging project. Using the legacy that Watson and Crick bequeathed us, he proposes to tinker with the essential biochemical pathways that drive the aging process. De Grey contends that we know enough to intelligently map out a program of anti-aging intervention research such that sometime in the next 100 years, and quite possibly much sooner, the average human life span may be 5,000 years, a figure brought short of outright immortality by the small number of people who will die from non-age-related diseases and everybody else who, given the boggling amount of time available to them on the planet, will eventually do something unlucky or stupid like walk in front of a moving rocket car. In de Grey time, the 400-year span between Shakespeare's England and today would be but the blink of an eye.


The key to this rosy scenario is a sort of biological Ponzi scheme that de Grey has dubbed "escape velocity." The idea is simple. If scientists can find ways to intervene in the cellular processes that cause our bodies to age - managing to keep middle-aged people alive an additional 40 years, say - that extra 40 years will buy enough time for biogerontological engineers to solve other damage problems before they emerge. Think of the body as a leaky boat. You don't have to keep it bone-dry to stay afloat; you just have to bail out the water at the same rate it's coming in. Or, as de Grey says, "You don't have to fix everything you're ever going to get. You only have to fix things in time."


Whatever else you can say about de Grey, he gives a good PowerPoint presentation. My favorite image from his bag of lectures is a chart that compares aging with fox hunting. Both are traditional, both are effective ways to keep a population down, and both are "fundamentally barbaric."


And sitting opposite de Grey and me at the Eagle is John Archer, a bona fide Cambridge professor and a leading authority on bioremediation, the use of microbes to clean up toxins in the environment. De Grey has sold Archer on the feasibility of identifying tenacious strains of bacteria in soil ("You can find bacteria that digest rubber," de Grey says), genetically modifying them for compatibility with humans, then delivering the bacterial genes to human cells to aid with the never-ending job of breaking down the metabolic waste that leads to macular degeneration (the leading cause of blindness in the elderly), heart disease and Alzheimer's. "It's sort of human engineering," Archer says. "It crosses boundaries, and that's exciting."


De Grey has carved a middle way between geriatric medicine and gerontology; he aims to reach what he calls "engineered negligible senescence." His is a pragmatic approach, he tells me emphatically over another pint, because by the time the gerontologists have cracked the mysteries of cellular metabolism, we'll all be worm's food. We're at an unprecedented time in the history of science, he says, having learned enough about the genetic and biochemical processes that lead to metabolic damage that we can begin to sketch out a plan to repair it.

The Methuselah Foundation gets a good mention too, as well it should. It's one of the most important initiatives in aging research advocacy currently underway. The full article is long - I could fill another few screens with good quotes, so get thee hence and read it all.

Two other related items are also up at PopSci:

Seven Deadly Sins:

We must intervene to halt these aging processes, says Aubrey De Grey. the rub is, no one has figured out how.

How Would Transhumanists Modify the Body?:

While most of us science-literate folks are watching the biotech revolution with tentative optimism, hoping for innovations like medicines that have no side effects because they're tuned to a patient's genes, or livers and kidneys grown to order for people with organ failure, some intrepid souls are taking much larger leaps.

That picture of Aubrey at the last article (How Would Transhumanists Modify the Body?) has a haunting quality...

Posted by: Kip Werking at December 8th, 2004 6:53 PM

I'd thought they were way and by the best photographs of Aubrey to date - but maybe that's just my inner goth talking. The articles are excellent, and their appearance in a major magazine like this will greatly aid the Methuselah Foundation and the wider cause of serious aging and anti-aging research. A good day, all in all.

Posted by: Reason at December 8th, 2004 7:11 PM

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