What happens if we cure ageing?

The older we get the more likely we are to get sick, and our population as a whole is getting older. That’s why I am one of the many scientists trying to work out why and how we age. Our ultimate goal is to ‘cure’ ageing.

fruit fly research ageing

I use the fruit fly, Drosophila, to look at what gene changes cause ageing in the heart. Heart disease is THE major cause of death worldwide. So I get to feel noble and useful each day working to fight this killer. But this brings me to the main topic of this post. What happens if we do cure ageing? Or even slow it down. What if we all start living to be 200 years old?

When the average lifespan was in the 50s, people would be lucky to see grandchildren, let alone great grandchildren. But if people started living to 200, there’s a good chance they could meet their great great great great great grandchildren. Such a big increase in overlapping generations would cause the world’s population to mushroom.

And the earth just couldn’t handle that. Our current population is already at an unsustainable level. At 7 billion people we use 50% more resources annually than the earth can replace. And our population is predicted to increase to 10 billion by 2050. This would probably be ok if we all started using less resources and creating less waste. Some scientists estimate the earth has enough resources to support 10 billion vegetarians but only 2.5 billion omnivores. But since we aren’t all going to become vegetarians, the only other solutions are to have less people or find somewhere else to live.

So, barring interstellar travel, which is not yet possible, to fix this we would also have to significantly delay or stop reproduction. We would all be immortal and infertile. Living in a world where no one has families anymore. If we’re going down this road, a lot of our sexual attraction comes from reproduction hormones. If we don’t have those, would we even be attracted to each other anymore? Would our whole society disintegrate into single people living forever alone? Maybe that is an extreme picture. But a small part of you has to admit that it’s possible, right? This is the whole premise for my work-in-progress novel: Thirty.

13 thoughts on “What happens if we cure ageing?

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  1. LOVE this as an idea for a novel! Have you read Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Mars” books? They deal a bit with the results of curing aging, but in a place (Mars) where overpopulation isn’t an issue.

    The question offers significant food for thought, especially since we’re already seeing consequences of longer lives.

  2. Governments usually subsidise childhood in some way or other, and also the infirmity of old age in some way or another. If the gap between gets larger, and the periods spent in childhood and infirmity remain the same as measured in years, then governments get a better deal … citizens pay tax for longer and are benefit claimants for smaller proportions of their lives. The UK government are already gradually increasing pensionable age each year.

    Making no effort to cure ageing if you can is like executing citizens for the “crime” of exceeding a certain age. Murder by neglect is a recognised crime, and crimes apply to nations as well as individuals.

    What really is the point of life if it ends in obliteration.

    Some children were asked “If you had the opportunity to ask God one question, what would it be”. One child replied “God, why do you keep on making new people if you don’t look after those you have already got.”

    Why indeed. God helps those who help themselves, and that is what we must do if God’s promise of raising the dead, indefinite lifespan and so on as suggested by many religious bodies is to come to pass.

    As to people living alone: I never wanted children, but I always wanted a female companion. We know several couples with the same attitude. It can’t be all that uncommon. Also search Amazon for for more on this.

    As to the planet Mars: search for

    1. Thanks for your comment.

      You are right, what we really need to do is increase ‘healthspan’ to maximise each person’s tax paying, lost cost years.

      If we were able to extend lifespan so that people could live 200 or even 300 years, how would we combat boredom? Maybe by changing careers every 10 or 20 years?

      My point about being alone was not that it is important to have children, but that if we were made infertile, perhaps we wouldn’t be attracted to each other and would maybe lose this desire to have a companion. I think that would be a shame.

  3. Thanks for your reply. I suspect that the desire for a companion is due to more than just hormones, but of course I could be wrong.

    Somehow my “search Amazon for” lost their important bits. The first one was for

    Ellen Peck The Baby Trap

    and the second one was for

    Linda Nagata Tech heaven.

    I think they may not have appeared on account of my use of the greater than and less than signs as brackets.

    As to boredom: I should have thought that anyone with an interest in science could never get bored, and the same would apply to an interest in the creative arts.

  4. Really cool blog! I found it from your comment on Wrtiter’s Carnival. In my series, I have a species who managed to genetically engineer longer lifespans, discovered it made them less fertile, then genetically engineered a higher sex drive (and twinned births) to help compensate. Part of the focus of the story is the cultural ramifications of this.

    It’s really fun to think about the implications of things like this, although more so in fiction, than reality.

      1. I haven’t posted any of it anywhere, yet. 😉 I’ve just started working on it again, after a decades-long hiatus. One part is published, but in print, a long time ago – probably hard to find, and that part doesn’t deal with those aspects. I just found WC yesterday, but it looks really neat and I’m checking it out. Love your site!

  5. The assumption that the world population is continuing to increase has been questioned by a Swedish scientist whose name I forget but it does seem that as people become affluent they reduce family size. I have married friends who decided not to have children and many of us have friends rather than sexual partners.
    ‘Your friends are the family you choose.’

    1. Hi Rosa,

      Thanks for your comment. It will be very interesting to see whether the predictions about population increase will come true. I like the thought that maybe humans are self-regulating our population through lifestyle choices.

      Leah

  6. Leah,

    Do you know about HeartMath institute in California ?

    They say stress is #1 predictor of heart disease

      1. The fact that stress is a factor in ill health isn’t taken into consideration when hospital administrative procedures (in the UK at least) add stress that isn’t medically necessary. The irony is that in state funded health care, the extra treatment that may be needed because of the stress factor costs cash-strapped health authorities more not less.

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