Longevity Meme Newsletter, February 07 2005

February 07 2005

The Longevity Meme Newsletter is a weekly e-mail containing news, opinions and happenings for people interested in healthy life extension: making use of diet, lifestyle choices, technology and proven medical advances to live healthy, longer lives.



- Superlongevity Without Overpopulation
- The World's Most Dangerous Idea
- April Smith on Changesurfer Radio
- A Fascinating Exchange
- Discussion
- Latest Healthy Life Extension Headlines


The latest Longevity Meme article, "Superlongevity Without Overpopulation" by Max More, is taken from The Scientific Conquest of Death - a very worthwhile book from the Immortality Institute. Take a look and see if you think it should be on your coffee table:


Fear of overpopulation is a common knee-jerk response from those new to the concepts of healthy life extension. This fear simply doesn't stand up to a rigorous examination of the facts, however, which indicates that we need to be doing a better job of presenting our side of the argument.



Healthy life extension is one part of "the world's most dangerous idea" - at least if you want to take the remarks of pro-aging bioconservative Francis Fukuyama as gospel. Not a course of action I'd recommend, by the way:


You may recall from the last newsletter that the World Transhumanist Association is working on a book of essays intended to bring transhumanism (and healthy life extension) to a wider audience. As it turns out, so is the Extropy Institute, with a work to be titled "The World's Most Dangerous Idea." If you have an interest in contributing an introductory essay on the topic of healthy life extension, do get in touch with the Institute staff:



James Hughes recently interviewed April Smith, the new Methuselah Foundation fundraiser, for his show Changesurfer Radio. You should download the audio and give it a spin. You'll find a variety of links in the following post:


Speaking of fundraising, April is already hard at work - so if you have good connections or a good idea to help raise the profile and funding level for the Methuselah Mouse Prize for anti-aging research, now would be a great time to speak up.



I don't mean to harp on about the Technology Review profile of biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey, but it really has turned into the gift that keeps on giving. I have reproduced a very interesting exchange on the underlying science from the Technology Review forums for your reading pleasure:


Taking a stroll through the blogosphere these days, one can see that a lot of folks are talking positively about healthy life extension and serious anti-aging research as a result of the Review article. A terrible piece of work as it was in many ways, I think we can see that ultimately there is no such thing as bad publicity.



The highlights and headlines from the past two weeks follow below.

Remember - if you like this newsletter, the chances are that your friends will find it useful too. Forward it on, or post a copy to your favorite online communities. Encourage the people you know to pitch in and make a difference to the future of health and longevity!


Founder, Longevity Meme



Superlongevity Without Overpopulation (February 06 2005)
The latest Longevity Meme article, by Max More of the Extropy Institute, addresses common Malthusian concerns about overpopulation in a world of greatly extended human life spans. Simply put, fears of overpopulation are no more than fears - and Max More handily shows why this is the case. As he says, "We would be severely misguided not to push for extended life out of fear of overpopulation. Let us move full speed ahead with extending life span." This article is one of many excellent pieces that can be found in The Scientific Conquest of Death: Essays on Infinite Lifespans, a book published by the Immortality Institute.

Private Stem Cell Funding Returning? (February 06 2005)
It's good to see any sign of private philanthropic funding for embryonic stem cell research. Up until very recently, the strong possibility of criminalization of this research had scared away all but the hardiest funding organizations. "Inadequate federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research gives private funding in this area an exceptionally high impact, and we are very grateful for the investment that [the W.M. Keck Foundation] is making here. ... This grant unites expertise in engineering, bioinformatics and stem cell biology in a way that is unprecedented, and it provides a glimpse of the future of biological research." This is important work - finding out exactly how embryonic stem cells differentiate and how to control this process.

Understanding The Dauer State (February 05 2005)
Something a little more scientific from Nature for you today - a paper describing progress towards understanding dauer biochemistry. Nematode worms are known to enter the dauer state, "an enduring and non-ageing stage of the nematode life cycle with distinctive adaptive features and extended life." Cynthia Kenyon and other researchers have gained some fame through manipulation of the dauer state and related genes to greatly extend worm life span. Researchers have made good first steps here, and as these Korean scientists note, a complete understanding of duaer biochemistry "might in turn influence ageing and obesity research."

More Proposed State Research Funding (February 05 2005)
Medical News Today reports on efforts to allocate significant state funding for embryonic stem cell research in Pennsylvania. "The lawmakers are also proposing that Pennsylvania join with New Jersey and Delaware to create an interstate compact and establish a joint stem cell research center." The proposed plan appears to follow the Illinois model of a narrow tax to raise revenue for a bond issuance. "Just this week researchers in Wisconsin announced a breakthrough where stem cells taken from human embryos became motor neurons -- an experiment that might one day help scientists repair damaged nervous systems. That is the kind of research we need to support in Pennsylvania."

More Years Of Fighting For Research (February 04 2005)
(From the Houston Chronicle). It looks as though we are in for another four years of fighting restrictions on embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning in the US. If one is to take the recent state of the union address at face value - not, generally, an advisable idea, given the obvious disconnects between most political speeches and reality - then we can expect further attempts to push through Federal bans on all such research. We can hope that the continuing threat of criminalization will have less of an effect on the vast reserves of potential private funding now that a number of states are funding this research - but this state of affairs has caused untold suffering through delays to date.

The Future Of Replacement Organs (February 04 2005)
The IEEE Spectrum is running a feature on the development of biological, prosthetic and mixed ("biohybrid") replacement organs through applied regenerative medicine or simply better, smarter materials science. "Part human, part machine, replacement organs may one day extend your life ... Bob is worried about getting old. As an engineer, Bob knows that the body is just one big system that runs by chemical gradients and electrical impulses. So why is it so difficult to come up with replacement parts when bodies like his start to break down?" It certainly isn't easy; the body is a very complex machine. Beyond the required scientific advances, there are no reasons why we can't just replace body parts as they fail, however - except the brain, which is going to require better technologies for in situ repair.

Investigating Mitochondrial DNA (February 03 2005)
Since accumulated damage to mitochondrial DNA is strongly correlated with the aging process - and possibly a cause of aging - these cellular powerhouses are a hot topic in aging research at the moment. As for all modern biology research, it is important for scientists to understand the molecular mechanisms associated with mitochondrial function and damage. Here, EurekAlert reports on the latest piece of the puzzle: "Mitochondrial DNA was discovered in the 1960s, and we still do not know much about how it is organized, packaged or inherited. What is really amazing is that we very recently discovered proteins associated with mitochondrial DNA that were thought to only have metabolic functions, and that aconitase, one of these proteins, is essential for mitochondrial DNA maintenance and inheritance."

Mitochondria - Cancer Connection (February 03 2005)
Research into both mitochondria and cancer (itself an age-related condition) is of great interest to the healthy life extension community. Here, ScienceDaily reports on a link between the two: "the excessive build-up of a simple metabolic molecule in mitochondria can trigger a sequence of events that leads to tumour growth. The discovery increases our understanding of the molecular basis of several types of cancer, which is crucial for the development of new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat the disease." Effective, targeted therapies can be produced ever more rapidly as scientists develop a greater understand of cellular processes - and their interaction - at the molecular level.

Alternate Day Fasting Not So Great (February 02 2005)
Alternate day fasting has been suggested as a methodology of calorie restriction - but the scientific jury is still out as to whether it's any better or worse than the standard practice of simply limiting calories every day. Reuters reports that human subjects don't seem to like alternate day fasting all that much - which should be taken to be just as anecdotal as my observation that Calorie Restriction Society members seem to have few problems enjoying their diets. The lesson to take away here is that calorie restriction is proven to provide numerous health benefits and is likely to extend your healthy life span to some degree. The animal life span studies are certainly just as compelling as the human health studies performed to date.

Examining Aging Flies (February 02 2005)
SFGate profiles the research of Pankaj Kapahi at the Buck Institute: "by feeding, poking, prodding and putting flies through a host of scientific indignities, he is searching for ways to make people live longer. ... Flies and humans share a number of metabolic processes that, when manipulated, can affect the rate of aging." On that note, it's worth mentioning that some folks are looking into starting a Methuselah Fly Prize along the same lines as the M Prize for anti-aging research in mice. Research into healthy life extension medicine - whether in flies, mice or humans - is still woefully underfunded, especially in light of what is likely to be possible with a comparatively modest level of resources.

Obesity And Type 2 Diabetes (February 01 2005)
(From Boston.com). The link between obesity and age-related (type 2) diabetes has long been known: "The researchers, from Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, discovered a genetic 'master switch' in the liver that is turned on when people become obese. ... this switch produces low-level inflammation, which disrupts the body's ability to process insulin, causing type 2 diabetes." As usual, understanding allows potential therapies to be explored quite rapidly. "Reasoning that aspirin-like drugs are used to quell inflammation, they successfully used the drugs, called salicylates, to eliminate the symptoms of type 2 diabetes in mice. Human tests are already underway in Boston, though no results have been published." The best therapy is, of course, a lifestyle that avoids obesity in the first place.

Do All Bacteria Age? (February 01 2005)
Nature reports on an elegant photographic experiment that has detected the signs of aging (or senescence) in certain bacteria, once thought to be immortal. "E. coli divides down the middle, giving each daughter cell one newly regenerated tip. But the cell's other tip is passed down from its mother, or grandmother, or some older ancestor. The bacteria inheriting the older end reproduced 1% more slowly than their counterparts with each cell division ... Discovering how to monitor bacterial lifespan may help us understand the genes that control human ageing, which are implicated in everything from weakened immunity to sagging skin."

FuturePundit On Stem Cell Advances (January 31 2005)
Randall Parker notes that the importance of many recent advances in stem cell research lies not in the immediate results, but rather the new tools developed for the task. For example, with reference to differentiating stem cells into liver cells, "the more important story here is not the discovery of particular protein combinations that make stem cells differentiate into liver cells. What will be more valuable in the longer run is the ability to apply their technique to more combinations of of proteins to convert embryonic and other cell types into various desired cell types. With better tools progress can accelerate by orders of magnitude. This is another example of the accelerating rate of advance of biomedical research."

More Differentiation Progress (January 31 2005)
Learning how to reliably control the differentiation of stem cells is an important step in developing new regenerative medicine for presently untreatable injuries and age-related conditions. EurekAlert reports on new progress in obtaining neural cells from embryonic stem cells. "Scientists have long believed in the therapeutic promise of embryonic stem cells with their ability to replicate indefinitely and develop into any of the 220 different types of cells and tissues in the body. But researchers have struggled to convert blank-slate embryonic stem cells into motor neurons, says Zhang. The goal proved elusive even in simpler vertebrates such as mice, whose embryonic stem cells have been available to scientists for decades." Work is proceeding on blood stem cell differentiation too.



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