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No. 86: Mar-Apr 1993

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Must we die? the medfly's answer

In the early 1800s, B. Gompertz, an actuary, crafted an empirical law stating that mortality rates increase exponentially with age. Later analyses of census records indicated that the situation was not quite as bad as Gompertz had supposed. Nevertheless, the death rate does increase with age; but we might be able to do something about it. Immortality might be achievable -- if we take recent medfly studies seriously.

"Growing old does not increase your immediate risk of dying -- at least, if you are a fruit fly. The chances of a Mediterranean fruit fly (Ceratitis capitata) dying on a particular day reaches a peak and then declines, according to James Carey of the University of California at Davis and James Vaupel of Duke University, North Carolina, and Odense University in Denmark. Their results contradict the notion that the death rate rises with age in all species."

The upshot is that there may be no genetic limit to an individual medfly's lifetime. And, if these results can be extended to humans, "then medical advances might eventually allow the elderly to live indefinitely."

(Bradley, David; "Who Wants to Live Forever?" New Scientist, p. 16, November 14, 1992.)

From Science Frontiers #86, MAR-APR 1993. 1993-2000 William R. Corliss