Tuesday, January 29, 2008

One Small Step for Yeast...

A few months ago, I wrote a post about the transhumanist movement, and its ideas about extending the human lifespan indefinitely. As I said then, I'm skeptical of this sort of thing--the future course of technology (especially biotechnology) is notoriously difficult to predict, and one of my guiding maxims is "We ought be most skeptical of ideas that we wish to be true;" since never dying (until I want to) sounds pretty damn good, I'm doing my best to be as skeptical as possible about the whole anti-aging research out there. However, I found some new research done by geneticists at USC today that gave me just a little bit of pause.

It's reasonably well known that calorie restriction does indeed seem to increase maximum lifespan in most mammals (as well as other species). However, by combining a calorie restricted diet with a little genetic tinkering (with two genes--RAS2 and SCH9, to be precise), researchers have now increased the lifespan of yeast bacteria by tenfold. Apparently, yeast's aging is controlled by genes that operate in much the same way as genes that control human aging, so the scientists are optimistic about being able to translate this discovery--which could theoretically increase the lifespan of humans to about 800 years--into usable anti-aging treatment in the near future. Snip from the press release:

Researchers have created baker's yeast capable of living to 800 in yeast years without apparent side effects. The basic but important discovery, achieved through a combination of dietary and genetic changes, brings scientists closer to controlling the survival and health of the unit of all living systems: the cell. "We're setting the foundation for reprogramming healthy life," says study leader Valter Longo of the University of Southern California.

Longo's group put baker's yeast on a calorie-restricted diet and knocked out two genes - RAS2 and SCH9 - that promote aging in yeast and cancer in humans.

"We got a 10-fold life span extension that is, I think, the longest one that has ever been achieved in any organism," Longo says. Normal yeast organisms live about a week.

"I would say 10-fold is pretty significant," says Anna McCormick, chief of the genetics and cell biology branch at the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and Longo's program officer. The NIA funds such research in the hope of extending healthy life span in humans through the development of drugs that mimic the life-prolonging techniques used by Longo and others, McCormick adds.

It shall be interesting to see where this goes...

1 comment:

Paul said...

Hi. Just wanted to say that your blog looks good, and I've linked to it from my own (perhaps you'd like to take a look?). I found you from a comment you made over at a post on "Robot thoughts" at Saint Gasoline.

I am a research student in the UK, and my work has a heavy involvement from many of the things you listed as being of interest: while nominally in the field of AI (particularly cognitive robotics), there are very strong influences from neuroscience and philosophy of mind (particularly the embodied cognition corpus).

Keep up the blogging!