Evolutionary biologist Michael Rose, at University of California, Irvine, says he has discovered a natural path to achieve “biological immortality” without the use of anti-aging drugs and stem cell treatments. Humans eventually achieve a period of non-aging, Rose suggests, just as several other multicellular living forms do, such as a creosote bush growing in the Mojave desert that has lived for longer than 10,000 years and the Galapagos tortise.
“It’s one you can start this evening,” the author of Evolutionary Biology of Aging shared in a recent talk at Humanity+ @ Caltech in Los Angeles. “It comes at no cost, you don’t have to buy anything, and, in fact, it might save you money.”
The term “biologically immortality” in gerontology is the point in which the exponential increase in mortality rates of a species population appears to level off, producing a sudden late-life plateau, which happens when a species reaches a state where it ceases to age, or no longer experiences a further loss of physiological function, Rose said. Rose suggests humans also experience a biological immortality phase if they are able to live long enough. “You can die, but the idea here is that you are non-aging,” Rose said, “versus aging with a decline of survival likelihood under good conditions.”
Rose argues that an organism ages because the process is a byproduct forced upon us by evolution by natural selection, because across evolutionary species in eukaryotes, the genes selected generally favor survival of the young in a population, and then mortality rates begin to rise exponentially.
“This is why you are all aging,” Rose said. The forces of natural selection, in other words, allow an “aging phase” because they fade out.
He began his work on fruit flies by tricking natural selection to produce what eventually became “Methuselah flies,” by taking the eggs from fruit flies that have maintained enough of their physiological function to reproduce in old age, and repeating the process, producing selection for late-life reproduction. This delayed-reproduction lineage, Rose showed, lives up to five times longer than average.
The aging phase eventually passes, Rose explained, and survival reaches a plateau, which is when the biological immortality phase starts. The chances of dying become constant, neither increasing or decreasing, a period of no more aging.
Rose has creayed what he calls his “natural immortality plan” for humans that he hypothesizes can keep us living far beyond the old-age record of Jeanne Calment, who lived until age 122 and inspired his new plan—because before the immortality phase theory, there was no reason for why she or other supercentenarians could survive so long. Rose explained that Calment may have reached a phase where physical decline stabilized.
The unfortunate problem for humans vs fruit flies, Rose expalined, is that they have a rough and long aging phase. “We hit late-life immortality plateaus very late in life, in our nineties—in your eighties you’re still aging—and we do so in terrible condition,” he said. “But,” he added, “there are good reasons theoretically that hunter-gatherer populations are more like fruit flies which hit immortality plateaus quite early. That, in fact, they might hit their transition from aging to late-life immortality perhaps in their fifties or sixties and do so in better shape.
“When you have an earlier likelihood of death from somebody’s spear in the back or because you can’t cope with infection," Rose added, "immortal phases should start earlier. The key is not to slow the rate of aging, but go directly to the immortal phase at a lower rate of mortality, which is exactly what the fruit flies do,” he said.
Rose's prescription for humans is to adhere to a regiment of what is natural for humans, what is our best environment, which excludes an industrial lifestyle and a Western-style diet that involves sitting several hours in front of a TV or computer and munching on junk food. Instead, adopt an ancestral hunter-gatherer lifestyle and a "paleo" diet that includes only foods available before the agricultural revolution of the Neolithic, which includes lean meats, shore-based foods, fruits and vegetables. Foods types that became available after the Neolithic such as grains, dairy, and processed foods are all avoided.
But, interestingly, Rose told me, for people of Eurasian ancestry, he disagrees with the age a paleo diet should be adopted as advised by main proponents of the paleo diet, such as evolutionary nutrition researchers Loren Cordain and S. Boyd Eaton. He said that young people of Eurasian ancestry have actually adapted well to new environments brought on by the agricultural revolution.
“But at later ages,” he added, “you will lose that adaptation to a novel environment and you will revert back to a condition to which you are better conditioned to a long ancestral environment.”
He explained that after age 40, the physiology of people of Eurasian ancestry appears to return to a pre-adapted state with age to one that is better off with the same foods our pre-Neolithic ancestors ate: meat, seafood, nuts, fruits and vegetables.
“Don’t eat anything derived from a grain or grass of any type—that includes rice and corn—and don’t eat anything from the udder of a cow if you are over 35 or 40,” Rose warns. “If you are under 30 you should probably eat an Andrew Weil-style organic, agricultural diet.”