Researchers known as biomedical gerontologists are search- ing for ways to end aging. By understanding how we age, these researchers believe we can learn how to slow or stop the process, much like how we’d treat a disease. This en- deavor is particularly impressive if you consider how new a phenomenon old age is. At the turn of the 20th century, people living in the United States could expect to live ap- proximately 45 years; just 100 years later, the life expectancy in the U.S. had risen to about 78 years.
Much of the leap in this statistic is due to better sanitation practices and medical advances like vaccinations and antibi- otics that improved the infant mortality rate. With a greaterlikelihood that children would make it through their firstyears, the average life expectancy skyrocketed. But as more people lived longer, they didn’t like what they saw. Aging-re- lated conditions such as dementia, stroke and heart disease became more common. And while some scientists have dedicated themselves to curing those ills, others see those individual problems as part of a bigger picture. If they treat- ing aging like a disease that can be cured, the thinking goes, then the troubles that go along with it will also disappear. By curing aging, scientists believe we can create another huge increase in the average life expectancy. Some believe that we’ll eventually reach a maximum life expectancy of about 120 years, while others believe that there’s no limit on how many years a person can age, leaving the possibility of immortality on the table.
BIOGRAPHY OF MICHAEL R. ROSE
Michael R. Rose is a Professor in the Department of Ecolo-gy and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California, Irvine. His Ph.D. advisor was Brian Charlesworth. His mainarea of work has been the evolution of aging, approached both theoretically and empirically via the technique of ex- perimental evolution.
In 1991, he published Evolutionary Biology of Aging ex- ploring a view of the subject based on antagonistic pleiot- ropy, the hypothesis that aging is caused by genes that have two effects, one acting early in life and the other much later. The genes are favored by natural selection as a result of
their early-life benefits, and the costs that occur much laterappear as incidental side-effects that we identify as aging. For us important point here to stress is that Dr. Rose sug- gests that aging can stop in a latter stage of life.
ROSE’S VIEW ON AGING
“Humans eventually achieve a period of non-aging, Rosesuggests, just as several other multicellular living forms do, such as a creosote bush growing in the Mojave desert that has lived for longer than 10,000 years and the Galapagostortise.”
The fact that such a diversity of eukaryotic organisms-all life forms except bacteria- can have indefinite lifespanshows you that there is precisely nothing about eukaryoticcell or molecular biology that requires an aging process,”Rose said, countering the view that aging is an inevitability, caused primarily by an accumulation of molecular damage and decline in physical function.
The term “biologically immortality” in gerontology is the point in which the exponential increase in mortality rates of a species population appears to level off, producing a sud- den late-life plateau, which happens when a species reaches a state where it ceases to age, or no longer experiences a further loss of physiological function, Rose said. Rose sug- gests humans also experience a biological immortality phaseif they are able to live long enough. “You can die, but the idea here is that you are non-aging,” Rose said, “versus ag- ing with a decline of survival likelihood under good condi-tions.”
Rose argues that an organism ages because the process is a byproduct forced upon us by evolution by natural selection, because across evolutionary species in eukaryotes, the genes selected generally favor survival of the young in a popula- tion, and then mortality rates begin to rise exponentially.
“This is why you are all aging,” Rose said. The forces of natural selection, in other words, allow an “aging phase” be- cause they fade out.
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