Lenny Guarente on how long humans will live in the future

A student from Laos wonders how long we – or our descendants – might live. An MIT biologist responds, and talks about new research that could help extend our lifespan.

Tony from the Vientiane International School in Laos had a question for scientists about how long we – or our descendants – might live.

Tony: Is it possible for humans to live for 200 years?

EarthSky spoke to an MIT professor of biology who studies the genetic sequence that controls aging. Lenny Guarente said he’s skeptical about humans living as long as 200 years. But, he said, new research could help extend our lifespan.

Lenny Guarente: In mammals, which includes us, what we think is the case, is that calorie restriction – a low calorie diet – triggers anti-aging genes called sirtuins. And that enables us to forestall diseases of aging so we can stay healthier, longer, and perhaps to actually live longer.

Guarente doesn’t believe that science could stop aging altogether.

Lenny Guarente: There’s just too many things that go wrong in aging, that it would be impossible to fix them all at the same time to achieve immortality. What I think you can do, you can achieve something that’s better than what we have now.

He said that life expectancy could increase anywhere from 10 to 30 years in the not too distant future.

Guarente said that, in the future, a drug could presumably give longevity benefits without requiring a strict diet.

Lenny Guarente: I would say one guide is to look what happens in the lab when you take a mouse and give it this diet that has adequate nutrition but low calories. That can extend their life span by something like one-third. So in principle, If things work the same in people as in mice, and you had a perfect drug, you could extend lifespan by 20, 30 years.

He said some life extension scientists are pursuing the goal of immortality, or infinite life span. But he doesn’t believe it can happen.

Our thanks to the Monsanto Fund, bridging the gap between people and their resources.

Our thanks to:
Lenny Guarente
Professor of biology at MIT
Cambridge, MA

Lindsay Patterson