Lenny Guarente, a biology professor at MIT, is trying to learn how to manipulate the genes that could extend human life.
Lenny Guarente: One guide would be to look at what happens in the lab when you take a mouse and give it this diet that has adequate nutrition but low calories.
Guarente said a low-calorie diet – below 1,500 calories daily – triggers anti-aging genes called sirtuins.
Lenny Guarente: That can extend their life span by something like one-third.
Guarente said there’s an evolutionary reason for this.
Lenny Guarente: When conditions become harsh, and food is less available, what these sirtuin genes do is they shift the strategy towards maintenance, and that’s the state that would promote longevity and disease resistance.
Guarente said a drug might be developed to give the same effect as a low-calorie diet.
Lenny Guarente: So in principle, If things work the same in people as in mice, and you had a perfect drug, you might imagine that you could extend life span by 20 or 30 years. Being more realistic, drugs are not perfect. I think we could get 10 years of healthier living, and possibly longer living. So instead of getting whatever disease you want to talk about – osteoporosis, or cancer, even – instead of getting it at age 70, you get it later. Or, you don’t get it at all.
There’s more good news, for those who like red wine. A natural compound called resveratrol, found in red wine, may be able to provide these benefits without the strict diet.
Our thanks to:
Professor of Biology
Learning to love science. As a producer for EarthSky, Lindsay Patterson interviews some of the world's most fascinating scientists. Through EarthSky, her work content is syndicated on some of the world's top media websites, including USAToday.com and Reuters.com. Patterson is also charged with helping to stay in steady communication with the thousands of scientists who contribute to EarthSky's work of making the voice of science heard in a noisy world. She graduated from Colorado College with a degree in creative writing, and a keen interest in all forms of journalism and media.