from the do-they-get-wrinkles dept.
In the world of animal models, naked mole rats are the supermodels. They rarely get cancer, are resistant to some types of pain, and can survive up to 18 minutes without oxygen. But perhaps their greatest feat, a new paper suggests, is that they don't age.
The first study to analyze the life histories of thousands of naked mole rats has found that their risk of death doesn't go up as they grow older, as it does for every other known mammalian species. Although some scientists caution against any sweeping conclusions, many say the new data are important and striking.
"This is remarkably low mortality," says Caleb Finch, a biogerontologist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles who was not involved in the new study. "At advanced ages, their mortality rate remains lower than any other mammal that has been documented."
Scientists have long noted that naked mole rats—burrowing rodents with wrinkled, pink skin and large protruding teeth that live in large, subterranean colonies—show few signs of aging and far surpass the life span expected of a rodent this size. Mice in captivity live at most 4 years; based on their size, naked mole rats would not be expected to live past 6 years. Instead, some live beyond 30 years, and even at that age breeding females stay fertile.
The scientists behind the research work at Calico, Google's biotechnology and anti-aging subsidiary.
Naked mole-rat mortality rates defy Gompertzian laws by not increasing with age (open, DOI: 10.7554/eLife.31157.001) (DX)
The Guardian has an interesting article on the current quest sweeping Silicon Valley to disrupt death and the $1m prize challenging scientists to “hack the code of life” and push human lifespan past its apparent maximum of about 120 years. Hedge Fund Manager Joon Yun's Palo Alto Longevity Prize, which 15 scientific teams have so far entered, will be awarded in the first instance for restoring vitality and extending lifespan in mice by 50%:
Billionaires and companies are bullish about what they can achieve. In September 2013 Google announced the creation of Calico, short for the California Life Company. Its mission is to reverse engineer the biology that controls lifespan and “devise interventions that enable people to lead longer and healthier lives”. Though much mystery surrounds the new biotech company, it seems to be looking in part to develop age-defying drugs. In April 2014 it recruited Cynthia Kenyon, a scientist acclaimed for work that included genetically engineering roundworms to live up to six times longer than normal, and who has spoken of dreaming of applying her discoveries to people. “Calico has the money to do almost anything it wants,” says Tom Johnson, an earlier pioneer of the field now at the University of Colorado who was the first to find a genetic effect on longevity in a worm.
Why might tech zillionaires choose to fund life extension research? Three reasons reckons Patrick McCray, a historian of modern technology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. First, if you had that much money wouldn’t you want to live longer to enjoy it? Then there is money to be made in them there hills. But last, and what he thinks is the heart of the matter, is ideology. If your business and social world is oriented around the premise of “disruptive technologies”, what could be more disruptive than slowing down or “defeating” ageing? “Coupled to this is the idea that if you have made your billions in an industrial sector that is based on precise careful control of 0s and 1s, why not imagine you could extend this to the control of atoms and molecules?,” he says.
In 2013, Time magazine ran a cover story titled Google vs. Death about Calico, a then-new Google-run health venture focused on understanding aging — and how to beat it. "We should shoot for the things that are really, really important, so 10 or 20 years from now we have those things done," Google CEO Larry Page told Time.
But how exactly would Calico help humans live longer, healthier lives? How would it invest its vast $1.5 billion pool of money? Beyond sharing the company's ambitious mission — to better understand the biology of aging and treat aging as a disease — Page was vague.
I recently started poking around in Silicon Valley and talking to researchers who study aging and mortality, and discovered that four years after its launch, we still don't know what Calico is doing.