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Author Archive: "Robert Brockway"

There Can Be Only One: Functional Immortality in Humans

It's thought that all species share a very basic survival tactic: the ability to switch their body's priorities from reproduction to survival under famine conditions. At a continuous 30% reduction in caloric intake, the creatures are able to better recover from injuries and significantly extend their life spans by slowing down the aging process. While this does help them survive long periods without food, it sounds kind of miserable, doesn't it? A life spent asexually is a life wasted (sorry, priests: Sex is rad. Also, as long as we're being honest here, those robes make you look fat). To make matters worse, you need to basically be starving to death forever to maintain this mechanism. So you're constantly hungry and bad at sex — it's like being a Bizarro John Goodman (see, because he's kind of a big guy, and he looks like a tender lover?).

But what if scientists could trigger the famine response without actually cutting calories, thereby still leaving the body the necessary resources to celebrate hump day?

Good news: They absolutely can! An enzyme called sirtuin, which is thought to mediate that famine reflex, is the subject of extensive recent experimentation. They're hoping to release drugs called sirtuin activators that, well... activate the sirtuin. Listen, not all science is inscrutable; sometimes it's just straight up with you.

Prolonging Physical Health: Science is Helping Old People Get Ripped

A key component of living forever is functionality: Who wants immortality, if it means centuries of joint pain, 4AM breakfasts, driving 30 miles an hour on the freeway, and an inexplicable fondness for Larry King? The first step to meaningful longevity is extending the quality of our old age.

And that's great: Research in this field even benefits the existing elderly, who might not otherwise reap the full rewards of longevity extension breakthroughs. If they can't live forever, at least we make it so it doesn't feel like they're trapped in a wet bag — all achy, cold, and smelling of burlap — for the last thirty years of their lives.

Start with infirmity: When human muscles age, they become less able to repair themselves, therefore less able to heal and rebuild themselves stronger after exertion. It's the reason your grandma acts like you've suddenly become He-man when you lift a grocery bag for her, and also why you generally don't see geriatric dudes rockin' the half-shirts to show off their sweet abs... which is probably for the best, really. But science is on the path to fixing that (for better or worse).

Isolating the Human Longevity Gene (So We Can Abuse the Crap Out of It)

The Japanese are famous for one thing: Disturbing pornography.

Well, that and the fact that they age wonderfully. They tend to live longer, show less mental and physical decline, and use their active golden years to teach more New Jersey kids karate through household chores than any other race. Part of this could be chalked up to lifestyle differences: they're not all motoring about on Rascal scooters loaded down with three hundred pounds of Bacon Ranchurrito fat — they stay active later in life, and eat much healthier than other countries, but those aren't the only factors. Studies have actually found that the Japanese are genetically biased towards a longer lifespan. Long ago, scientists had determined that a gene called FOXO3A was much more present in the extremely elderly Japanese, and this was likely responsible for their famously slow aging process.

Scientists have recently revisited that study, however, and this time they did it without the baffling bias that Japanese just mysteriously live forever through some kind of racially inherent magic; this time they performed the research on people of American and European ancestry as well. Guess what they found? Our extremely long-lived also possess the exact same gene! There's a common genetic explanation for why the extremely elderly, across all races and cultures, live as long as they do. But if a rare, select few have this longevity gene regardless of race, then why do the Japanese specifically have much higher percentages of extremely old senior citizens?

Immortality in Nature

We've been trained to think that immortality is fantasy — the stuff of fairy tales and science fiction. But immortal creatures (in the sense that they do not decay or die of old age but can still be injured or killed) have been around pretty much since the dawn of time ; they're actually somewhat common in nature. I'm not referring just to fungi or plant matter, either: There are plenty of actual living, breathing, moving animals that, if left completely unharmed, would simply never die. It's called negligible senescence, and you're probably already familiar with a few animals that possess it: Certain types of sturgeon, tortoises, and even lobsters could live forever if predators didn't get them first. Lobsters actually have an enzyme in their bodies called telomerase that repairs the damage in their DNA. So not only do they not age, they actually get more fertile and active as they get older.

Oh, and bigger. Much, much bigger.

Lobsters can theoretically live forever, and their size and overall virility would only increase with age. The only reason you're not slaving away beneath the thumb of bus-sized immortal super-lobsters is because nature cursed them with deliciousness (not literally, of course: There's a maximum size an animal with an exoskeleton can grow to, plus I'd like to believe that age would bring a tempered kind of wisdom to our lobster masters that would make slavery distasteful to them).

Who I Am and Why You Are Going to Die if You Don’t Pay Attention to Me


I'm here because I wrote a book: a nonfiction one, specifically. It's about the end of the world. I get some blank stares and a fair share of wary backing away when I say that. How can the end of the world be nonfiction?

That's easy: We're a pretty fragile race, really. A large-scale natural disaster would top us off neatly, a particularly virulent new virus could put us down, or it might just be our own advanced scientific knowledge coupled with our poor impulse control that leads to our destruction. My book is not about the eventual heat death of the universe, or the impending supernova of our sun, or some other such cosmic event far into the distant future. No, my book is entirely about the threats that could pose some kind of realistic threat to the survival of the human race in the very near future and the close shaves we've experienced in recent history that nearly did us all in. Everything in here either damn near killed you, personally, when it happened, or might kill you, personally, if it does happen.

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