Problem of Overpopulation Not an Issue with Extreme Life Extension

Extreme Life Extension Research

Funding Aging Research

Why Overpopulation Will Never Be a Problem

posted on September 15, 2009

When I initially propose the concept of extreme life extension, I™m often met with a knee-jerk reaction which goes something like this:

œWhat will we do with all the people?

It™s a logical ages-old question actually. But like most œobvious flawed arguments, it™s easily disproven once you dig deep. So let™s go deep and see what we find:

Amazingly enough, when you factor out immigration, industrialized countries are actually seeing population declines rather than increases. And according to world renowned economist Julian Simon, our current resources and technologies (without considering those that are undeveloped) could support 6 billion more people. Misallocation of those resources and technologies, usually due to bureaucratic bottlenecks and political greed and ineptitude, are the culprits.

Since the Industrial Revolution, alarmists screamed doom and gloom about overcrowding and limited resources (backed by their "statistics"). However, the opposite has happened. The population increased by 740% since then, and standards of living have soared. It's not so much a question of resources as it is one of education, individual productivity and distribution”social problems, not life-extension problems. As long as people produce more than they consume, it's impossible to run out of resources.

Common sense and intuition say there should be a demographic catastrophe, if people were actually immortal and continued to reproduce. But what would the science (mathematics) say? Recently, Drs. Leonid and Natalia Gavrilov answered that question with a study sponsored by the SENS/Methuselah Foundation.

They proved it is possible to have sustainable population dynamics in a future hypothetical non-aging society.

They proved that (even) immortality, the joy of parenting and a sustainable population size are not mutually exclusive.

This is because a population of immortal reproducing organisms will grow indefinitely in time, but not necessarily indefinitely in size.

Many developed countries (like the studied Sweden) face dramatic decline in native-born population in the future and also risk losing their cultural identity due to massive immigration. Therefore, extension of healthy lifespan in these countries may in fact prevent, rather than create a demographic catastrophe.

The Gavrilovs painted five scenarios:

  1. Negligible senescence where all anti-aging interventions start at age 60 years with 30-year time lag. Even in the case of defeating aging (no aging after 60 years) the natural population growth is relatively small (about 20% increase over 70 years).


  1. Negligible senescence for a part of population (10%). What if only a small fraction of the population accepts anti-aging interventions. The population declines.
  1. Negligible senescence for a part of population (10%) with growing acceptance (1 percent added to negligible senescence group each year), and the last remaining five percent of population refuse to apply these technologies in any circumstances. The Population still declines, but only slightly


  1. Rejuvenation. Mortality declines after age 60 years until the levels observed at age 10 are reached; mortality remains constant thereafter. In this case, population would increase about 20% over 70 years. How about when rejuvenation starts at age 40 instead of age 60? Now we see a manageable 40% increase over 70 years.
  1. And finally a more modest scenario where aging slows down still results in population declines.


A general conclusion of this study is that population changes are surprisingly small and slow in their response to dramatic life extension. Even in the case of the most radical life extension scenario, population growth could be relatively slow and may not necessarily lead to overpopulation. Therefore, the real concerns should be placed not on the threat of overpopulation, but rather on such potential obstacles to a successful biomedical war on aging, such as scientific, organizational and financial limitations.

Thank you Leonid and Natalie.

If you™d like to see details of their study, go to

The longer we keep ourselves alive, the more brainpower we have to see real and imagined problems through. Just as technology extends lives, it makes life more livable for larger populations. Telling people they should die to make room for others is an idiotic solution to any problem.


SOME THOUGHTS ON SENS4 (September 11 2009)
Some thoughts on the SENS4 conference at Transhuman Goodness: "The conference included around 90 talks, most of them by academic biomedical researchers, many of whom from 'serious' universities such as UCL, Cambridge University, etc. A typical topic would be 'we have this hypothesis about how this part of the aging process works, and we tested it in this trial/we built this device'. Now, as far as conquering death for those people who are currently within a few decades of dying goes, we are going to have to do an awful lot more, and pull out a lot more stops than I saw evidence of at SENS; if there's one overriding impression I really want to avoid, it is the impression that now that SENS exists, the ageing problem is handled, for that would be a fatal mistake to make. The problem of ageing is a very hard one, primarily because the human body is very, very complicated and very, very messy. The average biomedical talk given at SENS, which represented the work of a few researchers for a total time of perhaps a few months to a year, would typically make some small increment of progress on some small subsystem of the human body, and in some cases that progress was the refutation of some previous promising piece of work. Coming back to the subject of the conference itself, I was pleased overall: it was well-organized, professional and contained a lot of good science. My thanks go out to and all those who worked hard to make the conference a success; we should all be grateful to those who work towards the betterment of humankind by trying to defeat ageing, for they are the true heroes of our time."

From the Vancouver Sun: "People who stay even moderately fit as they age may live longer than those who are out-of-shape, a new study suggests. The study, of nearly 4,400 healthy U.S. adults, found that the roughly 20 percent with the lowest physical fitness levels were twice as likely to die over the next nine years as the 20 percent with the next-lowest fitness levels. That was with factors like obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes taken into account - underscoring the importance of physical fitness itself. Our findings suggest that sedentary lifestyle, rather than differences in cardiovascular risk factors or age, may explain (the) two-fold higher mortality rates in the least-fit versus slightly more fit healthy individuals. These results emphasize the importance of improving and maintaining high fitness levels by engaging in regular physical activity, particularly in poorly fit individuals. Since it is recent physical activity that offers protection, it is important to maintain regular physical activity throughout life. And since fitness is linked to longevity regardless of weight and health conditions like high blood pressure and high cholesterol."

THE VIEW FROM THE EDGE (September 10 2009)
This is why cryonics is important - it is the only viable chance at great longevity for the billions who will not live to see the technologies of radical life extension: "there's bad timing, and then there's this: Instead of a day late and a dollar short, most of us are a day early and ... well, money doesn't even play into it, because we're gonna die. But a lot of us alive today are likely to really have our noses rubbed in that vexing mortality thing, because it's looking more and more as if nanotech-boosted medicinal biology is going to make 'life extension' an everyday term. Nanobots will be able to repair the slightest defect arising from defective genes, a detrimental environment, and even, yes, aging. In short, people are going to live forever. Which is all well and good - hell, great - for anyone around when our progressive, humane national health care system of the future starts accepting appointments for regular 3,000-mile/3-year nanobot tune-ups. (It's fun to imagine Jiffy-Lube-like life-extension outlets - without the pneumatic lug-nut tighteners, one hopes - but it'll probably be geekier and more complicated than that.)  Many of the rest of us, though, will live to be just close enough to the breakthrough to know that it's coming, and to eat our deteriorating hearts out: Those lucky blankety-blanks are going to live forever, and all I get is this lousy shroud."

An update on induced pluripotency work from ScienceDaily: "human fat removed during liposuction conceal versatile cells that are more quickly and easily coaxed to become induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells, than are the skin cells most often used by researchers. Fibroblasts, or skin cells, must be grown in the lab for three weeks or more before they can be reprogrammed. But these stem cells from fat are ready to go right away. Unlike highly specialized skin-cell fibroblasts, these cells in the fat have a relatively wide portfolio of differentiation options - becoming fat, bone or muscle as needed. It's this pre-existing flexibility, the researchers believe, that gives these cell an edge over the skin cells. These cells are not as far along on the differentiation pathway, so they're easier to back up to an earlier state. They are more embryonic-like than fibroblasts, which take more effort to reprogram." Every discovery that makes it easier and cheaper to work with stem cells will help speed up progress in developing working regenerative therapies.

THE FOREVER QUESTION (September 09 2009)
Vision has an interview with Gerontology Research Group co-founder Robert Nathan: "For me, extending our healthy years is an immediate short-term step on the longer path to reverse the aging process and thereby attain physiological immortality with high quality of life, though it isn't clear how well we can avert catastrophic accidental death. Also, the big killer diseases appear to be age related: heart, cancer, stroke, Alzheimer's. If we reverse aging, do we avoid these killers? Over the past 50 years that I've been following this field not much real progress occurred until this last decade, starting with the mapping of the human genome. More attention has recently been focused on the mitochondria. And the most recent focus is on the control of stem cells already in our bodies. But please note, we all carry immortal cells within us. These are our germ cells, those involved with reproduction: sperm and eggs. There are also a limited number of nearly immortal stem cells. The rest of our body is composed of somatic cells that no longer divide and tend to die under some kind of programmed control. When I was young, the medical dogma declared that muscle, neural and kidney cells no longer increase in number once we mature. Today all that has been reversed. We have always had in our bodies different kinds of nearly immortal stem cells, which can replenish all three of these tissues on demand."

CONSIDERING THE PORTRAIT OF DORIAN GRAY (September 08 2009) The Times uses a forthcoming film adaptation as an excuse to pack a little of almost every previously discussed aspect of longevity science into a general interest article. Consider it a sign of the times: "While in the developed world every succeeding generation has enjoyed a longer life expectancy than the one before it - thanks primarily to modern sanitation, nutrition, disease control and a virtual end to infant mortality, which has stretched life expectancy from under 50 years to more than 75 in the past century - it is only this generation that has really dared to think of aging as a 'disease' that requires curing. So, while the middle-aged of today can look forward to notching up about 80 or 90 years, some biologists have speculated that our children will routinely surpass the 120-year mark with their faculties intact. Some researchers believe that if senescence (the aging of an organism) can be reduced or even reversed, its end point - death - is no longer inevitable. The controversial British researcher Aubrey de Grey sees no reason why the human body cannot last for 1,000 years (barring accidents). He believes that such a modern-day Methuselah already walks among us. De Grey's vision is close to that of 'transhumanists', people who believe in using science to transcend the limitations of being human, the most obvious limitation being death."

From the New Scientist: "It is becoming clear that people who break through the 90-plus barrier represent a physical elite, markedly different from the elderly who typically die younger than them. Far from gaining a longer burden of disability, their extra years are often healthy ones. They have a remarkable ability to live through, delay or entirely escape a host of diseases that kill off most of their peers. Supercentenarians - people aged 110 or over - are even better examples of ageing gracefully. As a demographic group, they basically didn't exist in the 1970s or 80s. They have some sort of genetic booster rocket and they seem to be functioning better for longer periods of time than centenarians. The average supercentenarian had freely gone about their daily life until the age of 105 or so, some five to 10 years longer even than centenarians, who are themselves the physical equivalent of people eight to 10 years their junior. Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia, is relatively rare among centenarians yet, intriguingly, autopsies reveal that the brains of the oldest old, who had shown no outward sign of dementia, are sometimes riddled with the lesions associated with Alzheimer's disease.
The basis of this resilience to Alzheimer's is largely unknown. The simple fact is that many people who become centenarians seem able to tolerate damage that would significantly harm less robust individuals, and although many suffer from dementia as death draws near, most remain mentally agile well into their nineties."

An interesting paper: "Women experience more years of vigorous life after ovulation has ceased than do females of other primate species. Is this an epiphenomenon of the greater life expectancy humans have enjoyed in the past century or so, or is long post-menopausal survival the result of an evolutionary selection process? Recent research implies the latter: Long post-menopausal survival came about through natural selection. One prominent line of thought explaining this selection process is the grandmother hypothesis. The hypothesis contends that, in past epochs, women who remained vigorous beyond their fertile years may have enhanced their reproductive success by providing care for their grandchildren. This care would have enabled their daughters to resume reproduction sooner, endowing them with greater lifetime fertility. Genes of grandmothers possessing such old-age vigor would be more likely to persist in subsequent generations. Is midlife menopause a uniquely human phenomenon, or does the chimpanzee, our closest primate relative, also display this trait? If so, we might expect a grandmother effect in this species as well. However, female chimpanzees continue to cycle until near the end of their maximum life span of about 60 years. Long survival beyond fertility and a long life expectancy are distinctive human adaptations."


Some types of human mitochondrial DNA are objectively better than others, as demonstrated by comparative absence or prevalence in specific population groups. As we move towards technologies capable of replacing age-damaged mitochondrial DNA, consider that we could also be receiving an upgrade - there is no known biological obstacle to completely replacing a mammal's mitochondrial DNA. The new DNA should simply pick up where the old DNA left off and mitochondria will continue to function as intended: "Elite athletic endurance ability involves multiple genetic and environmental factors, with little known about the specific genotypes involved. As a first step to finding genetic markers of endurance performance, we recruited 66 male endurance runners and 110 control athletes. We investigated the distribution of m.5178CA polymorphisms [in mitochondrial DNA] in male endurance runners. Although the m.5178A genotype has been reportedly associated with longevity, endurance runners in this study showed a significantly higher frequency (71.2%) of the m.5178C genotype than control subjects (52.7%). The-m.5178C genotype may be favorable for performance in elite endurance runners."

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