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A New Book on Longevity Research

The University of Chicago Press has sent along a copy of a new book by DePaul professor Ted Anton, The Longevity Seekers. It’s a history of the last thirty years or so of advances in understanding the biochemical pathways of aging. As you’d imagine, much of it focuses on sirtuins, but many other discoveries get put into context as well. There are also thoughts on what this whole story tells us about medical research, the uses of model animal systems, about the public’s reaction to new discoveries, and what would happen if (or when) someone actually succeeds in lengthening human lifespan. (That last part is an under-thought topic among people doing research in the field, in my experience, at least in print).
Readers will be interested to note that Anton uses posts and comments on this blog as source material in some places, when he talks about the reaction in the scientific community to various twists and turns in the story. (You’ll be relieved to hear that he’s also directly interviewed almost all the major players in the field, as well!) If you’re looking for a guide to how the longevity field got to where it is today and how everything fits together so far, this should get you up to speed.

17 comments on “A New Book on Longevity Research”

  1. anchor says:

    ..speaking of making quick money! A quick Google search revealed that he is professor of English. I guess you do not have to be a scientist in the field and anything goes these days.

  2. Ted says:

    There is no buck in university press publishing. 🙂

  3. John Wayne says:

    If you want to read a book that explores the potential impact of life-extending pharmaceuticals on society, I’d like to direct your attention to Elixir by Gary Braver. Chemists will have to give him a break on one plot twist, but it is otherwise very well done.
    I have no affiliation with Gary Braver, but we both live near Boston and went to the same college.

  4. newnickname says:

    @3: I met Braver when he was sitting at a table in a mall signing “Elixir”. There was no one else there so we had a friendly chat and he seemed like a nice guy. It was just around the time that Elixir Pharm got started in Cambridge (Guarente and Kenyon, co-founders) so we joked about that but he was unaware of Elixir Pharm when he titled his book.
    Another longevity book is “The Immortal Cell: One Scientist’s Quest to Solve the Mystery of Human Aging” by Michael D West of Advanced Cell Technologies (ACT) near Boston. (Not to be confused with Dermer’s “Immortal Cell”.) I think ACT was involved in some stem cell / cloning claims controversies.
    There’s “The Youth Pill: Scientists at the Brink of an Anti-Aging Revolution.” by David Stipp, also.
    I’d add some more titles, but I’m getting older by the second.

  5. anonymous says:

    Has anyone read “How I Increased MY Longevity by Selling Garbage for $720 Million” by C. Westphal?? I hear it’s a classic !

  6. Insilicoconsulting says:

    Watch the movie “The Man from Earth” . It’s a small budget production and deals with the implications of a super extended lifespan.

  7. Brad Arnold says:

    While linear thinking will give you the conclusion that the world doesn’t need a whole bunch of old people living substantially longer, an exponential view gives a different conclusion. Briefly, Malthusianism is now the prevalent paradigm, with limited resources and expanding populations. Instead, because technology is exponentially advancing, the new paradigm will be Abundance, with unlimited resources. More educated minds mean faster technical progress. With the unlimited frontier of space promising exponential production, LENR with the promise of clean very very cheap and super abundant energy, and other equally amazing technologies on the horizon like genomics, nanotechnology, the Slingshot for water purification, etc, the future is so bright.
    What a waste that all those educated brilliant minds are dying, when they could be productive for hundreds of years – especially in the name of population reduction.

  8. Brad Arnold says:

    While linear thinking will give you the conclusion that the world doesn’t need a whole bunch of old people living substantially longer, an exponential view gives a different conclusion. Briefly, Malthusianism is now the prevalent paradigm, with limited resources and expanding populations. Instead, because technology is exponentially advancing, the new paradigm will be Abundance, with unlimited resources. More educated minds mean faster technical progress. With the unlimited frontier of space promising exponential production, LENR with the promise of clean very very cheap and super abundant energy, and other equally amazing technologies on the horizon like genomics, nanotechnology, the Slingshot for water purification, etc, the future is so bright.
    What a waste that all those educated brilliant minds are dying, when they could be productive for hundreds of years – especially in the name of population reduction.

  9. Poul-Henning Kamp says:

    Science Fiction author Charles Stross has some thinking on this subject on his blog and it’s generally not pretty.
    Imagine for instance a Senate with no term limits and lifespans of 250 years.
    http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2009/07/institutional-longevity.html
    http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2012/11/the-ticking-clock-stopped.html
    I can highly recommend his books too. Start with “The Atrocity Archive”.
    Poul-Henning
    (I can highly recommend his books too. Start with “The Atrocity Archive” or “Rule 34”)

  10. Anon says:

    Trouble with Lichen by John Wyndham is a good sci-fi on this topic.

  11. AR says:

    Stephen Hawkins says that the life span of 500 years would put star travel within reach.

  12. lt says:

    Very few things have as much potential to truly change what it means to be human as achieving an indefinite healthspan would. The 20. century saw many experiments in social engineering, where competing political ideologies promised to bring about a better world. They were based on the premise that people are capable of changing their behavior if they subscribe to the principles of those ideologies, much like religion is supposed to make us behave better. All of them failed to bring about true change.
    The way to modify behavior is to change the environment, and the most immediate environment is our own bodies. That’s why I hope that if people knew that they will not be automatically be free from the consequences of their actions through death, they will think more about those consequences. Also the fact that we would never be too decrepit to participate in any activity we desire and never be too old to learn new things – would be a nice bonus…

  13. Hap says:

    There’s an awful lot of people on death row in a variety of states and in prison everywhere that were unable or unwilling to understand the consequences of the their actions within the standard limited lifespan, and other people (*cough* financial engineering *cough*) who had the education and ability to understand what they were doing but who didn’t take the time to do so, didn’t care about the consequences to others, or actively ignored them.
    I don’t think a longer lifespan is likely to make people more cognizant of the consequences of their actions – a lifetime is an awfully long time as it is in jail or on death row, and yet people still perform the actions that put them there (in the presence of others who do not).

  14. lt says:

    Of course fixing aging will not cure psychopathy or stupidity but I’d wager that the incidence of the type of crime that is currently committed by men aged 12-35 or so (which is AFAIK most of all crime) would be reduced if the average age of the population were in the hundreds. I think a lot of such crime and irresponsible behavior is caused by the fact that we have only one shot at life and some decide that they must use it to grab whatever pleasure they can for themselves as fast as possible – because long-term thinking has no value if you are unable to resist the urge for immediate gratification…
    In the end curing all disease and aging itself will only eliminate some of the worst aspects of being human and we certainly have to continue to work hard to remake society and the world itself to be more to our liking. Perhaps the best way to do that is to colonize the stars and try out new ways of building a home for ourselves until we stumble on something that works. And perhaps, among those innumerable worlds filled with all conceivable types of society there would be a home for every weary traveler, even if it takes them a million years to find…

  15. Hap says:

    I’m not sure that it’s just psychopathy or stupidity, though (for narrow definitions of such). We don’t seem to understand (or perhaps be able to understand) the consequences of our actions in even the short term, even when we have lots of information and the ability to use it. Some of that is the unpredictability of consequence, but some of it is an unwilling to see things we don’t want to see, and even at our current lifespan, there is plenty of time to appreciate (or rue) the consequences of what we do. I don’t know that this is incurable, but I don’t think that expanding our lifespans will cure it.
    Leaving other people alone when their existence does not harm us doesn’t seem to be a trait we hold in high esteem. Grudges and ever-increasing desires we have in abundance, though.
    When I went to a church group for people trying to meet people to date and marry, the discussion leader said once that more money doesn’t cure money problems, and it seemed very reasonable to me. We want more money because we won’t scale our desires to what we have or can afford (assuming we have enough to eat and clothes and a place to live, but all of us there did). We want more time because we can’t use what we have well enough, and more won’t help that. It may help people to do better things if they are using their time well, but like diet drugs, it provides a moral hazard to those who can’t or won’t use their time well (but who have the resources to afford more).
    @1: You’ve read lots of papers, right? Writing well is a skill few people seem to have in abundance, and not very many in science. You can get better information from others if you can write, but if you can’t write but know all the relevant information, you’re not going to have anything useful.

  16. anchor says:

    #15- you are right and something I realized after my posting. That it is an art, and may be if you are good at, you can tell someone’s scientific story!

  17. ptm says:

    Once it becomes possible to live hundreds of years we will immediately face another world war.
    That said if the groups who had access to life extension and those who did not stayed separate humans with shorter lives would eventually out-compete longer living ones simply because they would evolve faster. It might be postponed temporarily by power imbalance but not indefinitely.
    In any case a long life wouldn’t be any less pointless then a short one.

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