The Science of Living Forever (or a Really, Really Long Time)
The modern quest for immortality, which began 30 years ago, aims to cure aging. But are we any closer after billions of dollars of research? And is there an upper limit to how long we can live?
Thirty years ago, scientists found a genetic quirk that doubled the lifespan of a lowly worm. The discovery, announced on Dec. 2, 1993, kickstarted the modern quest for human immortality or, at the very least, extreme longevity. The effort, championed by serious scientists and hype-prone futurists alike, has accelerated dramatically of late as vast fortunes pour into so-called “anti-aging” research aimed at developing a pill or therapy or mix of potions that would extend human life for decades or even centuries, or as idealists have framed the pursuit: forever.
And so, 30 years into this modern search for the fountain of youth, I set out to investigate a few key questions:
- Can aging be cured?
- How long can humans really live?
- What’s the true status of longevity research?
- Why aren’t we living longer yet?
- Would we even want to live forever?
Big money bets on aging reversal
The field of longevity science, at times overhyped and always intermingled with far less sexy fundamental research into age-related diseases, has long been funded by arguably stodgy universities, grants from the federal government, and R&D budgets at large pharmaceutical companies.
But the ultra-rich are funding the dream of immortality, or at least extreme longevity, through a surge of investments in small biotech companies that aim to utterly stop or even reverse aging of the human body and brain, should such a thing be possible.
More than $1 billion in venture-capital funding was invested in the top 50 longevity-focused startup companies in 2020. In 2021, a single new player in the field — Altos Labs — snagged $3 billion of funding, some of it from Jeff Bezos. More than a dozen billionaires like Bezos, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and PayPal…