More Context on the Goals of Human Longevity, Inc.

The company Human Longevity was recently founded to work on the genetics of aging and health. My thinking is that genetics is a hot field, and there is much to be done in the general context of medicine, but that insofar as longevity goes it is the wrong place to be looking for large benefits. Epigenetic and gene expression changes are secondary consequences in aging, not the root cause, and natural genetic variations have a small effect on aging in comparison to what might be possible through repair biotechnologies such as those of the SENS vision. So for aging the outcome of Human Longevity is likely to be incremental advances in the present day practice of ignoring the comparatively simple causes of degeneration, the accumulation of damage, while trying to patch over the very complex end states by tinkering with enormously complex dysregulations of metabolism and biological systems that occur in response to damage. This is doomed to only marginal success, just like the medicine of today.

Here is a piece that provides more context on where Human Longevity is headed in the near term: undoubtedly useful, just not so much for aging. We all age in the same way, due to the same root causes involving an accumulation of specific, known forms of damage to cells and molecular tissue structures. Fix those causes by repairing them and near all but the most rare and catastrophic genetic variations are irrelevant. They simply don't matter.

Genome scientist and entrepreneur J. Craig Venter is best known for being the first person to sequence his own genome, back in 2001. This year, he started a new company, Human Longevity, which intends to sequence one million human genomes by 2020. Venter says that he's sequenced 500 people's genomes so far, and that volunteers are starting to also undergo a battery of tests measuring their strength, brain size, how much blood their hearts pump, and, says Venter, "just about everything that can be measured about a person, without cutting them open." This information will be fed into a database that can be used to discover links between genes and these traits, as well as disease. But that's going to require some massive data crunching.

In my view there have not been a significant number of advances [in genomics]. One reason for that is that genomics follows a law of very big numbers. I've had my genome for 15 years, and there's not much I can learn because there are not that many others to compare it to. Until now, there's not been software for comparing my genome to your genome, much less to a million genomes. We want to get to a point where it takes a few seconds to compare your genome to all the others. It's going to take a lot of work to do that.

Understanding the human genome at the scale that we are trying to do it is going to be one of the greatest translation challenges in history. Everything in a cell derives from your DNA code, all the proteins, their structure, whether they last seconds or days. All that is preprogrammed in DNA language. Then it is translated into life. People are going to be very surprised about how much of a DNA software species we are.



It is a pity that Craig Venter is not (yet) behind the SENS damage repair approach, but is rather pursuing the doomed metabolic intervention approach. But then it is a relief that George Church and some of the Buck institute scientists have given SENS their backing.

Posted by: Jim at July 31st, 2014 5:15 PM

The information that will be learned from this - relating genes with intelligence, health, etc - can and will be used for selecting the future children:
For example, from ~1000 fertilized eggs, the couple will choose the one with the best genes for intelligence, etc.
And the couples refusing to use the technology will inevitably have, on average, children with comparatively substandard attributes.

Posted by: Edit_XYZ at August 3rd, 2014 3:50 AM

@Edit_XYZ: But there's no combination of parental genes that will produce children capable of living to 150+ for example. This germ-line method of in vitro selection will pale to insignificance compared to rejuvenation biotech. SENS-type rejuvenation therapies applied to the brain are really inseperable from enhancement. The brain refines its circuits throughout life, but there's a competing process of degeneration going on. If that is overcome, cognitive performance will tend to be elevated over time, not just preserved.

It's for the best, I think, to have personally empowering technology help us into the future. Genomics is not such a technology. The message of genomics to many people would be simply "you are inferior in every conceivable way and should step aside so that the children of superior types can inherit the future" and that is a bitter pill that can't be easily sugar-coated.

Posted by: José at August 3rd, 2014 5:06 AM


"It's for the best, I think, to have personally empowering technology help us into the future. Genomics is not such a technology."

I disagree.
Until now, the genes of the child (and the very large influence they have on IQ, health, beauty, etc) are determined by the so-called genetic lottery.
And, as is pretty much proven, on the long term, societies are meritocratic in that the high IQ individuals rise to be elites, outcompeting the rest - read "The son also rises", by Gregory Clark for abundant evidence.

Well, genomics (as I described it), empoweringly, will largely get rid of the genetic lottery. When used by responsible parents, it will ensure that the children will have the best possible combination of their parents' genes.
The range of IQs of such a generation will tend to cluster around what we now call above average intelligence. A more politically correct level playing field than exists today.

And a person who grows up to be an unqualified worker who can't get a date (because his/her generation tend to have 30-45 IQ points more and bodies built like tanks - complete with beauty, charisma, etc) will know exactly whom to blame - his parents, who, for whatever reason, played the genetic lottery with his/her life.

"The brain refines its circuits throughout life, but there's a competing process of degeneration going on. If that is overcome, cognitive performance will tend to be elevated over time, not just preserved."

What data are you basing this affirmation on?
The cognitive performance increases until adulthood, when the brain is fully developed, but afterwards, I know of no data that points to the existence of a process that tends to increase cognitive performance, competing with aging.

Posted by: Edit_XYZ at August 3rd, 2014 10:53 AM
Comment Submission

Post a comment; thoughtful, considered opinions are valued. New comments can be edited for a few minutes following submission. Comments incorporating ad hominem attacks, advertising, and other forms of inappropriate behavior are likely to be deleted.

Note that there is a comment feed for those who like to keep up with conversations.