Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Methuselah

The Hebrew Bible's Methuselah lived for 969 years. A good run to be sure, but peanuts for Aubrey de Grey. The British de Grey, biogerontologist provocateur, is optimistic that humanity can solve the problem of aging within his (presumed) lifetime. His strategy, labeled SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence), focuses on addressing seven core causes of pathology/aging - cell loss, death-resistant cells, nuclear mutations and epimutations, mitochondrial DNA mutations, protein crosslinks, intracellular junk, and extracellular junk. He is the founder of the Methuselah Mouse Prize, which provides incentives for scientists working on extending life in mouse models. His ideas have, predictably, been met with considerable skepticism including a well-publicized dustup in MIT's Technology Review (de Grey's response).

Aubrey de Grey is certainly an eccentric, he may be naive and wrong, I don't know. But I think I have more confidence in him than his critics, certainly I find him more interesting. The world needs more people like Aubrey de Grey, people of brazen optimism and imagination. I find the reflex to defend convention disconcerting, to say the least. His TED talk from 2005 is below. And, as long as we're discussing immortality, it would be rude not to mention the bristlecone tree. The oldest known of the bristlecones, nicknamed Methuselah, is nearly 5,000 years old. That's only slightly younger than writing, an unfortunate irony for a tree. The hydra and sturgeon fish will have to wait for future posts.