Editor's Note: The following blog post first appeared May 19 on the World Science Festival's Web site.
Most people look for the key to postponing old age in mega-antioxidant-loaded juices, extreme exercise regimens or expensive skin creams. Not Michael Rose. Rose, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Irvine and one of the panelists for the World Science Festival's From Dust to…The Radical New Science of Longevity session on Thursday, June 2, turned to fruit flies.
He and his colleagues have spent many fruit fly lifetimes studying the short-lived insects. And in the past thirty years, they have found that by manually selecting the longest-living flies from each generation of a group, they could extend the amount of time later generations lived. The experiment, which has been running since 1981, has generated fruit flies that live nearly four times the length of the first average flies.
But rather than argue for some sort of dystopian global human breeding program—which wouldn't likely see extreme benefits for hundreds or thousands of generations anyway—Rose has discerned a more subtle lesson. He found that fruit flies had genes that worked in two different ways to determine life span. The genes functioned one way in the flies' younger years and another way in their insect-lives' twilight years (which are closer to our weeks).
Other humble organisms are providing clues about the mysterious forces behind aging. Leonard Guarente, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has helped to describe a type of genetic regulator known as sirtuins, which help control life span in worms and yeast.
But parsing all of this out in people—who live relatively long and hardly laboratory-controlled lives—has, of course, been quite a challenge.
Some researchers have focused their attention on cells in the body that stop dividing—and how these aged pieces contribute to disease. Judith Campisi, a professor at The Buck Institute for Research on Aging and a senior scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is investigating these senior cells' links to cancer and old age.
And Aubrey de Grey, editor-in-chief of Rejuvenation Research, is trying to put the pedal to the metal—or, perhaps more accurately, the antilock breaks—on aging. He's pioneered an approach called SENS: "Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence" that promises to mend tissue damaged in the course of our everyday eating, living and breathing.
Come spend an hour and a half of your life to see Rose, Guarente, Campisi, and de Grey discuss the ways science is untangling the cause of—and possible cures for—this pesky thing called mortality.
From Dust to… The Radical New Science of Longevity takes place on Thursday, June 2, at 7:30 PM at The Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College. Get tickets or view the full festival schedule to learn more about the many other 2011 Festival programs.