We are programmed not to die, but to live.

To Age or Not to Age

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

"All great discoveries begin as blasphemy"..... George Bernard Shaw.

            And so it was with Galileo, flight, the wheel, and the coming of anti-biotics. Working on the premise that the human body is programmed not to die, but to live, a group of dedicated research scientists has found the gene that controls aging. They go to great lengths to emphasize that their goal is not to stretch longevity but to manipulate the gene SIRT1 to eliminate the diseases that end our lives.

            They acknowledge also, since the by-product of their work is indeed the extension of life, that their work will become the stuff of hyperbole. They worry that their research will be misinterpreted because the premise is so simple: people get sick because their repair mechanisms get weakened, not because they get old. The solution, they say, has been right in front of us all along.

            These men and women were drawn to this research from their bases in MIT, Harvard, the Universities of California and Texas, and from widely scattered universities abroad. A core group of cellular and evolutionary biologists began by studying the genetics of the aging rates of yeast cells. Dr. Cynthia Kenyon set out to find genes that would allow worms to live longer and found the gene SIR2 that doubled their life spans. The researchers point out that the evolutionary cycle from yeast to worm to mouse is billions of years in Darwinian terms.

            After that, the challenge became how to add a compound to the gene - like the natural compound Resveratrol for example - to see how manipulation can affect cancer, heart diabetes, neurological and other diseases. They believe diseases can be postponed - perhaps indefinitely - and because disease and longevity go hand in hand, longevity will be the by-product. Aging, they say is complicated, but this approach is a simple concept. In 5 - 10 years, they add, we will know about its effects on disease. It will take 10 -20 to understand the effects on longevity.

            These serious scientists, appropriately cautious in their claims, emphasize that as scientists they "are going with the grain of nature, not against it." They stand on the firm scientific ground of their discoveries and invite others to weigh the moral implications that flow from them.

            Robert Kane Pappas' documentary moves quickly in short, fast cuts of this unfolding conversation among the scientists and captures beautifully the passion that drives them. In their expressions and body movements even more than in their words, the excitement of their search and discovery is palpable. We will one day know the names of Kenyon, Guarante, Westphal, Austriaco, Butler, Kirkwood, deGray and others. For now I suggest that you - whoever you may be - will be riveted by this enormously provocative documentary. The scientists are going full speed ahead; now it's time for all of us to start pondering the implications. However this unfolds, as Kenyon says, "This ranks with the discovery of DNA...this will change everything."


Copyright (c) Illusion

Return to Ellis Home Page