Science and Technology links (September 1st, 2017)

Richer countries tend to have higher longevity and lower fertility. What is cause and effect? The Hajnal line separates Western Europe from Eastern Europe and it seems like going back centuries ago, people on the West side of the line had lower fertility due to women marrying late or not at all. It is unclear what explains this cultural fact, but it is maybe significant that it preceded the rise of capitalism and the industrial revolution. Thus one could theorize that cultural changes often drive economics and technology. That is, we got the industrial revolution because more women married late, as opposed to the industrial revolution freeing women from early marriage.

There are now SD cards (the tiny cards you put in your Android smartphone) with a 400GB capacity. That’s more storage capacity than many laptops today.

It looks like canakinumab, an anti-arthritis drug, can help fight heart diseases. This is yet more evidence that uncontrolled inflammation is a driver for age-related conditions. By the way, you can drastically reduce your heart disease risks by taking a daily dose of aspirin (caveat: it has the side effect of making it more likely that you will bleed out in case of injury).

Osteocalcin is produced in our bones. As we age, we produce less of it. In previous work, it was shown to rejuvenate the muscles of old mice. It recent work, it was shown to rejuvenate memory (in mice). It should be quite safe to increase one’s level of osteocalcin.

After the age of 25, your exercise capacity tends to diminish year after year. Recent research suggests that this is largely preventable, however. High-intensity training (HIIT) can do wonders (in mice): “Those four mice who had exhibited the kinds of deficits that correlate to frailty in humans (…) The HIIT actually reversed frailty in them.” To be clear, HIIT does not include taking a walk or running for 30 minutes. You have to push your body to its limits. Surprisingly, it is well tolerated even for very old individuals.

Aubrey de Grey is a controversial gerontologist, controversial because he proposed 20 years ago that we could stop aging using engineering. It is evidently much less controversial today. He recently gave a very nice talk entitled How old can we get? In this talk, using what appears to be solid statistics, he shows that human beings appear to hit a “wall” near age 115. That is, while your risk of death increases exponentially with age, doubling every few years… things get much, much worse for those of us making it close to 115 years of age. That is quite interesting because we do not know why that is. The context is that many more of us make it to age 90, or to age 100. In Japan, the number of centenarians has exploded. Yet despite these longevity gains, despite the fact that there are billions of us, hardly anyone ever gets close to 120 years of age. It appears that something happens when you get close to 115 years old that makes your risk of death rise “super exponentially”. You could easily conjecture that the body “wears out”, and in some sense you are certainly right, but “wearing out” tends to follow statistical laws… if all cars of a given make fail exactly one day after the warranty expires, it is not mere “wearing out”, it is programmed death. So is there some kind of fail safe that ensures none of us can make it beyond 115 years of age? Probably there is nothing so sinister, but it makes for a nice narrative.

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