Can Humans Live to 1,000? Some Experts Claim We Can.
Cambridge University geneticist Aubrey de Grey has famously stated, “The first person to live to be 1,000 years old is certainly alive today …whether they realize it or not, barring accidents and suicide, most people now 40 years or younger can expect to live for centuries.”
Perhaps de Gray is way too optimistic, but plenty of others have joined the search for a virtual fountain of youth. In fact, a growing number of scientists, doctors, geneticists and nanotech experts—many with impeccable academic credentials—are insisting that there is no hard reason why ageing can’t be dramatically slowed or prevented altogether. Not only is it theoretically possible, they argue, but a scientifically achievable goal that can and should be reached in time to benefit those alive today.
“I am working on immortality,” says Michael Rose, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of California, Irvine, who has achieved breakthrough results extending the lives of fruit flies. “Twenty years ago the idea of postponing aging, let alone reversing it, was weird and off-the-wall. Today there are good reasons for thinking it is fundamentally possible.”
Even the US government finds the field sufficiently promising to fund some of the research. Federal funding for “the biology of ageing”, excluding work on ageing-specific diseases like heart failure and cancer – has been running at about $2.4 billion a year, according to the National Institute of Ageing, part of the National Institutes of Health.
So far, the most intriguing results have been spawned by the genetics labs of bigger universities, where anti-ageing scientists have found ways to extend live spans of a range of organisms—including mammals. But genetic research is not the only field that may hold the key to eternity.
“There are many, many different components of ageing and we are chipping away at all of them,” said Robert Freitas at the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing, a non-profit, nanotech group in Palo Alto, California. “It will take time and, if you put it in terms of the big developments of modern technology, say the telephone, we are still about 10 years off from Alexander Graham Bell shouting to his assistant through that first device. Still, in the near future, say the next two to four decades, the disease of ageing will be cured.”
But not everyone thinks ageing can or should be cured. Some say that humans weren’t meant to live forever, regardless of whether or not we actually can.
“I just don’t think [immortality] is possible,” says Sherwin Nuland, a professor of surgery at the Yale School of Medicine. “Aubrey and the others who talk of greatly extending lifespan are oversimplifying the science and just don’t understand the magnitude of the task. His plan will not succeed. Were it to do so, it would undermine what it means to be human.”
It’s interesting that Nuland first says he doesn’t think it will work but then adds that if it does, it will undermine humanity. So, which is it? Is it impossible, or are the skeptics just hoping it is?
After all, we already have overpopulation, global warming, limited resources and other issues to deal with, so why compound the problem by adding immortality into the mix.
But anti-ageing enthusiasts argue that as our perspectives change and science and technology advance exponentially, new solutions will emerge. Space colonization, for example, along with dramatically improved resource management, could resolve the concerns associated with long life. They reason that if the Universe goes on seemingly forever—much of it presumably unused—why not populate it?
However, anti-ageing crusaders are coming up against an increasingly influential alliance of bioconservatives who want to restrict research seeking to “unnaturally” prolong life. Some of these individuals were influential in persuading President Bush in 2001 to restrict federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. They oppose the idea of life extension and anti-ageing research on ethical, moral and ecological grounds.
Leon Kass, the former head of Bush’s Council on Bioethics, insists that “the finitude of human life is a blessing for every human individual”. Bioethicist Daniel Callahan of the Garrison, New York-based Hastings Centre, agrees: “There is no known social good coming from the conquest of death.”
Maybe they’re right, but then why do we as humans strive so hard to prolong our lives in the first place? Maybe growing old, getting sick and dying is just a natural, inevitable part of the circle of life, and we may as well accept it.
“But it’s not inevitable, that’s the point,” de Grey says. “At the moment, we’re stuck with this awful fatalism that we’re all going to get old and sick and die painful deaths. There are a 100,000 people dying each day from age-related diseases. We can stop this carnage. It’s simply a matter of deciding that’s what we should be doing.”
One wonders what Methuselah would say about all this.
Kids become chatterboxes within months of barely being able to speak a few words. How come?
Children do not need any specialised learning to suddenly improve their vocabularies. Instead, their behaviour can be described by a simple mathematical rule of thumb.
Parents become familiar with the so-called “word spurt”, the slightly disconcerting stage of a child’s life when they go from hardly talking to suddenly uttering hundreds of new words, sometimes after hearing them only once. (This can be disconcerting for parents whose children are suddenly uttering profanities like a angry truck-driver.)
At 18 months the average child can say 50 words, but by age two, they have learned up to 350 words; half a year later their vocabulary has doubled to 600.
Scientists have proposed various theories to explain children’s language land-grab. Perhaps learning a few basic words helps a child learn others. The theory of “naming insight”, for instance, suggests that at around 18 months children suddenly realise that each object has a specific name. (It’s not until around two that a child learns that when they cover their eyes and ‘hide’, that you can still see them.)
Another theory, called “fast mapping”, suggests that children quickly understand that groups of objects are related, and therefore they learn unfamiliar words describing objects within familiar groups more quickly.
Of course, there may be a much simpler explanation. The acceleration in a child’s learning may inevitably happen due to the way most languages are structured.
All languages contain a characteristic distribution and pattern of words. Where most are of medium difficultly to learn, there are a few that are either very easy, or very difficult. Children always learn a number of words in parallel. These parameters have been factored into computational models which simulate how long it takes to learn 10,000 new words.
Guess what? The simulation the model produces the same characteristic acceleration in learning. Essentially learning one new word makes learning another new word even easier. This allows a child to move through words of medium difficulty more quickly since their learned in parallel. Acceleration is an unavoidable by-product of variation in difficulty. (It’s a network effect.)
Of course computer modeling isn’t the real world and may not accurately get to the heart of while kids learn language so amazingly fast, but adults don’t learn as quickly and don’t show a similar acceleration in their language learning.
Exotic foreign males are most attractive - for female spotted hyenas at least. It’s this female preference for the unusual that drives young males to leave their clan and seek out another pack. After all, for hyenas as well as humans, diversity is the spice of life.
Every year early 90 per cent of male spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) leave their birth clan and disperse to pastures new, but until now it has never been clear what drives them away. Are they are avoiding competition for mates, trying to preserve resources for the rest of the pack, or avoiding inbreeding?
None of the above, say researchers led by Oliver Höner of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, Germany, who have been monitoring all 400 hyenas in the Ngorongoro crater, Tanzania, since 1996. They have shown that the females are running the show, driving males to leave by selectively mating with immigrants from outside the pack and leaving the ‘pack males’ to take increasingly cold showers.
“We found that female hyenas prefer to mate with males who have immigrated into their pack, or who were born into the clan after the female was born,” says Höner. By following this simple rule, females avoid inbreeding and help to maintain the genetic health of the pack.
None of the males could be reached for comment.
| A machine is a tool used to make work easier. Simple machines are simple tools used to make work easier. Compound machines have two or more simple machines working together to make work easier. |
In science, work is defined as a force acting on an object to move it across a distance. Pushing, pulling, and lifting are common forms of work. Furniture movers do work when they move boxes. Gardeners do work when they pull weeds. Children do work when they go up and down on a see-saw. Machines make their work easier. The furniture movers use a ramp to slide boxes into a truck. The gardeners use a hand shovel to help break through the weeds. The children use a see-saw to go up and down. The ramp, the shovel, and the see-saw are simple machines.
|Inclined Plane |
A plane is a flat surface. For example, a smooth board is a plane. Now, if the plane is lying flat on the ground, it isn’t likely to help you do work. However, when that plane is inclined, or slanted, it can help you move objects across distances. And, that’s work! A common inclined plane is a ramp. Lifting a heavy box onto a loading dock is much easier if you slide the box up a ramp—a simple machine. Want to know more? Here’s extra information.
Instead of using the smooth side of the inclined plane, you can also use the pointed edges to do other kinds of work. For example, you can use the edge to push things apart. Then, the inclined plane is a wedge. So, a wedge is actually a kind of inclined plane. An axeblade is a wedge. Think of the edge of the blade. It’s the edge of a smooth slanted surface. That’s a wedge! Want to know more? Here’s extra information.
Now, take an inclined plane and wrap it around a cylinder. Its sharp edge becomes another simple tool: the screw. Put a metal screw beside a ramp and it’s kind of hard to see the similarities, but the screw is actually just another kind of inclined plane. Try this demonstration to help you visualize. How does the screw help you do work? Every turn of a metal screw helps you move a piece of metal through a wooden space. And, that’s how we build things! Want to know more? Here’s extra information
Try pulling a really stubborn weed out of the ground. You know, a deep, persistent weed that seems to have taken over your flowerbed. Using just your bare hands, it might be difficult or even painful. With a tool, like a hand shovel, however, you should win the battle. Any tool that pries something loose is a lever. A lever is an arm that “pivots” (or turns) against a “fulcrum” (or point). Think of the claw end of a hammer that you use to pry nails loose. It’s a lever. It’s a curved arm that rests against a point on a surface. As you rotate the curved arm, it pries the nail loose from the surface. And that’s hard work!
|Wheel and Axle |
The rotation of the lever against a point pries objects loose. That rotation motion can also do other kinds of work. Another kind of lever, the wheel and axle, moves objects across distances. The wheel, the round end, turns the axle, the cylindrical post, causing movement. On a wagon, for example, the bucket rests on top of the axle. As the wheel rotates the axle, the wagon moves. Now, place your pet dog in the bucket, and you can easily move him around the yard. On a truck, for example, the cargo hold rests on top of several axles. As the wheels rotate the axles, the truck moves.
Instead of an axle, the wheel could also rotate a rope or cord. This variation of the wheel and axle is the pulley. In a pulley, a cord wraps around a wheel. As the wheel rotates, the cord moves in either direction. Now, attach a hook to the cord, and you can use the wheel’s rotation to raise and lower objects. On a flagpole, for example, a rope is attached to a pulley. On the rope, there are usually two hooks. The cord rotates around the pulley and lowers the hooks where you can attach the flag. Then, rotate the cord and the flag raises high on the pole.
|If two or more simple machines work together as one, they form a compound machine. Most of the machines we use today are compound machines, created by combining several simple machines. Can you think of creative ways to combine simple machines to make work easier? Think about it.|