25 November 2007

Will This 80 Year Old Woman Soon be Pregnant?

If she is anything like Richard Hanson's PEPCK-C mice, perhaps.
The mice over-express a gene responsible for the enzyme phosphoenolypyruvate carboxykinases (PEPCK-C). Normal expression is in the liver, in the production of glucose.

The scientists found their new mice would eat twice as much as normal mice - but weigh half as much. They could also give birth at three years old - which in human terms is akin to an 80-year-old woman giving birth.

These special PEPCK-C gene-overexpressing Case Western mice can run ordinary mice right off the treadmill.
The mouse can run up to six kilometres at a speed of 20 metres per minute for five hours or more without stopping, British newspaper The Independent reports.

Scientists say that's the equivalent of a man cycling at speed up an Alpine mountain without a break.

...Scientists say the super abilities came about from a standard genetic modification to a single metabolism gene shared with humans.

The genetic alteration to a gene involved in glucose metabolism appears to stimulate the efficient use of body fat for energy production, The Independent reported, citing a study published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

These mice are reported to be "very aggressive," for reasons unclear to the researchers. But if you were trying to create a new breed of mice to take over the mouse "niche", aggression would be useful. (For a look at what happens when the PEPCK-C gene is blocked, see this report.)

Skip forward from mice to humans. How difficult would it be to do the same thing with humans? It depends on how ethical you want to be. If you do not care about destroyed embryos and the like, it might not be so hard.
Professor Richard Hanson commented:

"We humans have exactly the same gene. But this is not something that you'd do to a human. It's completely wrong. We do not think that this mouse model is an appropriate model for human gene therapy. It is currently not possible to introduce genes into the skeletal muscles of humans and it would not be ethical to even try."

Hanson says it would be "completely wrong" and "would not be ethical to even try." Which is to say that when someone does indeed perform this experiment on humans, they will want to do so far from the authority of any bioethics committees.

Radical life extension in humans, incorporating genetic modifications such as the one described above, is inevitable.
The technology to enable youthful life spans of centuries is inevitable in the fullness of time - as the cost of developing an application of medical technology falls, the level of support required to complete the task falls with it. Sooner or later, a determined group will gather to get the job done.

So, to the point: the technology base required for the repair of aging is inevitable in the next few decades. Its application to this end, however, is not. That means that radical life extension is not inevitable for you and I; we're going to have to work on making it happen.

How do we make sure that such beneficial technologies are not limited to the rich and powerful? First of all, we have to confront the arguments of those who claim that "youthful life extension" is morally wrong, or that it would lead to overpopulation.

Anyone who thinks healthy life extension is morally wrong is welcome to forgo its benefits. And modern western societies are in far greater danger of population depletion than overpopulation. If technologies of rejuvenation and extending youthful lifespan were limited to societies with birthrates below or near replacement, the overpopulation problem would be limited to the third world where it is currently. Such technologies might motivate residents of the third world to voluntarily limit their procreation.

Aubrey de Grey's recent book Ending Aging is a useful progress report on the SENS 7-step method of fighting senescence. It is worth reading, since de Grey's approach is the best overall approach at this time. But other, more piecemeal research can make astounding inroads into the problems of senescent societies. We need to do what we can, and pay attention.

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Blogger IConrad said...

> How do we make sure that such
> beneficial technologies are not
> limited to the rich and powerful?

Howsabout we just wait and let it come, like electricity or running water; as opposed to trying to force equality by preventing new things from ever coming at all?

Sunday, 25 November, 2007  
Blogger Will Brown said...

Two aspects to official positions like that taken by Hansen: a) the lack of government investment of tax monies into development of such technologies forces private and more diffuse efforts instead; b) technology outside the control of societal influence often gets banned at the behest of those who benefit from established technologies.

Prohibition isn't always about recreation nor is it necessarily an absolute ban. I can easily envisage technology like this not being available in the USA and returning recipeints being denied re-entry (on "public health" grounds) absent "correct" political or financial affiliations having been established prior to departing the country for treatment. It wouldn't be denial of civil rights per se however much the outcome might appear so. I submit that the already established precedent of felons being able to "buy" their place of incarceration could easily be twisted to support such official arrangements being contracted.

I regard the foregoing to be a fairly likely example of the type of unintended consequences that will arise from new medical (and other; think AGI) technologies in the nearer-than-we-might-think future. Not precisely Blade Runner, but not all that different in principle.

Monday, 26 November, 2007  
Blogger al fin said...

Conrad: I prefer to help it come, rather than waiting around.

Will: Right. I can see India and China as providers for such gene therapy for those who can pay. I doubt the US would deny re-entry, unless a massively luddite government (far beyond anything currently imaginable) achieves power.

Blade Runner society was one where many of the affluent and ambitious had fled earth for space colonies. A similar phenomenon in the absence of space colonies would be outward emigration from countries that arbitrarily limit new technologies.

I doubt the luddite countries would send out Blade Runners to hunt down and terminate the "modified." But who knows?

Monday, 26 November, 2007  
Blogger IConrad said...

Al wrote:

> Conrad: I prefer to help it come,
> rather than waiting around. ;-)

Well, yes, but that's changing the context of the statement, now isn't it? After all -- the original question framed it in terms of how to prevent the tech from being "solely" in the hands of the privileged. To which my answer stands. The one universal truth about technology is that it spreads from its point of inception. The more easily replicated the tech, the more powerful this trend. In other words; the cheaper the technology the more people who have it.

Instead of attempting to mandate some standard of ubiquity before //ANYONE// may have access to said tech, doesn't it make more sense to let early adopters (or the privileged) take the early, expensive forms -- and thus cash in on the "mass production" effect to make said techs more available, sooner?

Of **COURSE** we should do what we can to accelerate the onset of said tech. But in the context of "who should have it first"... I say, "Anyone who wants it and can afford it." And be done with it from there. We've gone 10,000 years without already. A century or so won't make any major difference to the course of human events.

Monday, 26 November, 2007  

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