Current Aging Science (v.7, #1)

The death of our universe is as certain as our individual death. Some cosmologists have elaborated modelswhich would make the cosmos immortal. In this paper, I examine them as cosmological extrapolations of immortality narrativesthat civilizations have developed to face death anxiety. I first show why cosmological death should be a worry,then I briefly examine scenarios involving the notion of soul or resurrection on a cosmological scale. I discuss in how faran intelligent civilization could stay alive by engaging in stellar, galactic and universal rejuvenation. Finally, I argue thatleaving a cosmological legacy via universe making is an inspiring and promising narrative to achieve cosmological immortality.

We live within an increasingly technological, information-laden environment for the first time in human evolution.This subjects us (and will continue to subject us in an accelerating fashion) to an unremitting exposure to 'meaningfulinformation that requires action'. Directly dependent upon this new environment are novel evolutionary pressures,which can modify existing resource allocation mechanisms and may eventually favour the survival of somatic cells (particularlyneurons) at the expense of germ line cells.;In this theoretical paper I argue that persistent, structured information-sharing in both virtual and real domains, leads toincreased biological complexity and functionality, which reflects upon human survival characteristics. Certain biologicalimmortalisation mechanisms currently employed by germ cells may thus need to be downgraded in order to enable somaticcells to manage these new energy demands placed by our modern environment. Relevant concepts from a variety ofdisciplines such as the evolution of complex adaptive systems, information theory, digital hyper-connectivity, and cellimmortalisation will be reviewed. Using logical, though sometimes speculative arguments, I will attempt to describe anew biology. A biology not driven by sex and reproduction but by information and somatic longevity.

Throughout primate history there have been three major life history transitions towards increasingly delayedsexual maturation and biological reproduction, as well as towards extended life expectancy. Monkeys reproduce later andlive longer than do prosimians, apes reproduce later and live longer than do monkeys, and humans reproduce later and livelonger than do apes. These life history transitions are connected to increased encephalization. During the last life historytransition from apes to humans, increased encephalization co-evolved with increased dependence on cultural knowledgefor energy acquisition. This led to a dramatic pressure for more energy investment in growth over current biological reproduction.Since the industrial revolution socioeconomic development has led to even more energy being devoted togrowth over current biological reproduction. I propose that this is the beginning of an ongoing fourth major primate lifehistory transition towards completely delayed biological reproduction and an extension of the evolved human life expectancy.I argue that the only fundamental difference between this primate life history transition and previous life historytransitions is that this transition is being driven solely by cultural evolution, which may suggest some deeper evolutionarytransition away from biological evolution is already in the process of occurring.

Despite the common apprehensions regarding the aging population, this work aims to argue, on both deontologicaland utilitarian moral grounds, that any increase in general life-expectancy will be beneficial for the Middle East,countering the common fears associated with this increase. A set of ethical arguments concerning increasing longevity ispresented, from both the deontological and utilitarian perspective. A wide selection of economic, psychological, demographicand epidemiological literature and databases is analyzed to determine common correlates of extended longevity.On the deontological grounds, the value of extended longevity is derived from the value of life preservation, regardless ofits term. On the utilitarian grounds, the value of extended longevity is demonstrated by its correlation with further humanvalues, such as education level and intellectual activity, economic prosperity, equality, solidarity and peacefulness. Withthe common apprehensions of stagnation and scarcity due to life extension found wanting, the pursuit of longevity by thepopulation can be seen as a cross-cultural and cross-generational good. Though the current study mainly refers to sourcesand data relevant to the Middle East, a similar pro-longevity argument can be also made for other cultural contexts. Inview of its numerous benefits, normatively, the goal of longevity should be set clearly and openly by the society, and activelypursued, or at least discussed, in academia, the political system and broader public.

Aging is generally interpreted according to two opposing paradigms: 1) as a non-adaptive phenomenon, causedby the age-related failure of homeostatic mechanisms; 2) as a specific function, favored by natural selection, which determinesthe self-destruction of the organism, namely explaining aging as phenoptosis. This interpretation requires geneticallydetermined and regulated age-specific mechanisms, now well documented by an impressive and growing scientificevidence. It follows that, in principle, aging is modifiable even up to the condition, already existing for many species, of"negligible senescence", alias unlimited longevity.

Prevailing ideas of how aging evolved are a poor fit with the picture of aging that is developing from geneticslabs and breeding experiments. Nevertheless, the community of theorists is reluctant to consider alternate approaches becausethe differences are profound, calling into question much of the standard methodology of Population Genetics. (Atstake is not the legacy of Darwin, but the particular model of Darwinian selection that has dominated the field of researchsince the middle of the 20th Century). This model may be a historic artifact, arising from a time before computers, when apremium was placed on equations that could be solved analytically. The standard Population Genetic model gained credibilitythrough agreement with laboratory experiments that were designed to realize the assumptions of the model, ratherthan to mirror conditions in the natural world. Models of evolution based on pure individual selection or inclusive fitnesscannot explain the basic phenomenology of aging. Aging is not the only area of conflict, however. Other areas which presentdifficulties for the standard model include the origin of sex, the maintenance of diversity, the basis of evolvability(including hierarchical structure of the genome), occasional persistence of eusociality without close relatedness, and manyexamples of strong altruism. From many corners of the field, creative and visionary biologists are calling for a re-thinkingof the fundamental mechanisms of natural selection.

Pseudorandomness of Gene Expression: A New Evo-devo Theory of Ageing by Alessandro Fontana, Borys Wrobel (48-53).
In contrast to the first part of life (development), ageing appears to be under less strict genetic control. The precisetiming of events so characteristic of development seems to loosen its grasp, while stochastic and environmental factorsseem to become the dominant force. Evolutionary theories put forward a decreasing evolutionary pressure over thecourse of life as the reason behind this pattern, yet dissenting views on ageing as a genetically programmed process linger.In this paper we address this dissent by presenting insights from an artificial evolutionary-developmental system, ET, andpropose a new evo-devo theory of ageing—a theory that sees ageing as a continuation of development in the postreproductiveperiod. In this theory both development and ageing are under genetic control. Nonetheless, while gene expressionpatterns that drive development are optimised by evolution, patterns that drive ageing are not optimised, becauseevolutionary pressure decreases with age. For these reasons, during ageing the changes orchestrated by genes are “pseudorandom”—deterministic but erratic—and their effects on an individual's health are more likely to be detrimental thanbeneficial. As such, they contribute to the continuous deterioration of bodily functions that characterise ageing.

An Evolutionary and Genomic Approach to Challenges and Opportunities for Eliminating Aging by Michael R. Rose, Grant A. Rutledge, Kevin H. Phung, Mark A. Phillips, Lee F. Greer, Laurence D. Mueller (54-59).
While solutions to major scientific and medical problems are never perfect or complete, it is still reasonable todelineate cases where both have been essentially solved. For example, Darwin's theory of natural selection provides asuccessful solution to the problem of biological adaptation, while the germ theory of infection solved the scientific problemof contagious disease. Likewise in the context of medicine, we have effectively solved the problem of contagious disease,reducing it to a minor cause of death and disability for almost everyone in countries with advanced medicine andadequate resources. Evolutionary biologists claim to have solved the scientific problem of aging: we explain it theoreticallyusing Hamilton's forces of natural selection; in experimental evolution we readily manipulate the onset, rate, andeventual cessation of aging by manipulating these forces. In this article, we turn to the technological challenge of solvingthe medical problem of aging. While we feel that the broad outlines of such a solution are clear enough starting from theevolutionary solution to the scientific problem of aging, we do not claim that we can give a complete or exhaustive planfor medically solving the problem of aging. But we are confident that biology and medicine will effectively solve theproblem of aging within the next 50 years, providing Hamiltonian lifestyle changes, tissue repair, and genomic technologicalopportunities are fully exploited in public health practices, in medical practice, and in medical research, respectively.

Aging is analyzed as the spontaneous loss of adaptivity and increase in fragility that characterizes dynamic systems.Cybernetics defines the general regulatory mechanisms that a system can use to prevent or repair the damage producedby disturbances. According to the law of requisite variety, disturbances can be held in check by maximizing bufferingcapacity, range of compensatory actions, and knowledge about which action to apply to which disturbance. This suggestsa general strategy for rejuvenating the organism by increasing its capabilities of adaptation. Buffering can be optimizedby providing sufficient rest together with plenty of nutrients: amino acids, antioxidants, methyl donors, vitamins,minerals, etc. Knowledge and the range of action can be extended by subjecting the organism to an as large as possible varietyof challenges. These challenges are ideally brief so as not to deplete resources and produce irreversible damage.However, they should be sufficiently intense and unpredictable to induce an overshoot in the mobilization of resources fordamage repair, and to stimulate the organism to build stronger capabilities for tackling future challenges. This allows themto override the trade-offs and limitations that evolution has built into the organism's repair processes in order to conservepotentially scarce resources. Such acute, “hormetic” stressors strengthen the organism in part via the “order from noise”mechanism that destroys dysfunctional structures by subjecting them to strong, random variations. They include heat andcold, physical exertion, exposure, stretching, vibration, fasting, food toxins, micro-organisms, environmental enrichmentand psychological challenges. The proposed buffering-challenging strategy may be able to extend life indefinitely, byforcing a periodic rebuilding and extension of capabilities, while using the Internet as an endless source of new knowledgeabout how to deal with disturbances.