Gregory Benford On Artificial Biological Selection for Longevity

Gregory Benford discusses artificial biological selection for longevity in this excellent TED talk. Science fiction fans know that Benford, a physics professor, has written some excellent science fiction novels and stories.

In the talk, Benford specifically references Methuselah's Children, the great 1941 novel by Robert Heinlein. In the novel, Heinlein creates the idea of the Howard Families, an endowed foundation that proposed to increase human lifespan by selection.

The first offspring resulting from unions assisted by the Howard Foundation were born in 1875. They aroused no comment, for they were in no way remarkable. The Foundation was an openly chartered non-profit corporation--"

On March 17, 1874, Ira Johnson, medical student, sat in the law offices of Deems, Wingate, Alden, & Deems and listened to an unusual proposition. At last he interrupted the senior partner. "Just a moment! Do I understand that you are trying to hire me to marry one of these women?"
The lawyer looked shocked. "Please, Mr. Johnson. Not at all."
"Well, it certainly sounded like it."
"No, no, such a contract would be void, against public policy. We are simply informing you, as administrators of a trust, that should it come about that you do marry one of the young ladies on this list it would then be our pleasant duty to endow each child of such a union according to the scale here set forth. "
Ira Johnson scowled and shuffled his feet. "What's it all about? Why?"
"That is the business of the Foundation. One might put it that we approve of your grandparents."
"Have you discussed me with them?" Johnson said sharply.
He felt no affection for his grandparents. A tight-fisted foursome-if any one of them had had the grace to die at a reasonable age he would not now be worried about money enough to finish medical school...
When he did marry (from the list) it seemed a curious but not too remarkable coincidence that his wife as well as himself had four living, healthy, active grandparents.
(Read more about Heinlein's Howard Families)

Although he does not exactly propose to instantiate the Howard Families, Benford himself has taken some of the money that he made writing sf novels and plowed it into Genescient, a corporation determined to extend human life:

Our focus is to extend healthy human lifespan by using advanced genomics to develop therapeutic substances that attack the diseases of aging. We are the first company founded to exploit artificial selection of animal models for longevity.

Our extremely long-lived animal models (Drosophila melanogaster) have been developed over 700 generations. They are an ideal system for the study of aging and age-related disease because Drosophila metabolic genetic pathways that are highly conserved in humans.

Our sophisticated analysis cross-links gene function in Drosophila with their human orthologs, thus revealing the targets for therapeutic substance development. To date we have discovered over 100 of these genomic targets, all related to the primary diseases of aging.


(Gregory Benford On Artificial Biological Selection for Longevity TED video)

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