An aging scientist has made a billion kroner bet about how old we may become this millenium.
‘I think there are those alive today who will live to be 200 years old’, sad Professor Stuart Kim of Stanford University to NRK news.
In his lifetime, the average life expectancy has increased by around 2.5 years each decade.
Partly, this was due to a fall in infant mortality, but if life expectancy, hypothetically, had grown as fast for the oldest person, we could have glimpsed the world’s first 150-year-old in about 90 years. That person will be in their late 50s today
At around the time of the new millennium, the first bet on maximum longevity had been taken already. Professor Steven Austad bet that an individual who was then living will reach the age of 150. His opponent was a colleague at another university, who thought that the maximum age for somebody already alive would be 130.
‘We doubled the bet last year, so we estimate that it will be worth around one billion US dollars in 2150’, said Steven Austad of the University of Alabama.
Professor Stuart Kim has now raised the maximum age from 150 to 200 years. But he has a problem. The world record of 122 years was set by Jeanne Calment, and has stood since 1997.
‘Nobody has come close to the world record, but there are no biological process that put an absolute limit on maximum age’, said aging researcher, Professor Tom Kirkwood of Copenhagen, and Newcastle University.
The age-researcher, who is part of the bet, says that many of us have the wrong impression that old age and death are programmed into our genes, and organisms die to make room for the generations that come after.
Kirkwood believes we age because we have not had the advantage of being genetically coded for a very long life. Almost all animals in the wild are eaten, or die of injuries and illness long before they reach their maximum lifespan.
‘Life in the wild is short. When accidents are likely to kill you, it makes no sense to invest energy and resources in building a body that will last forever’, said Kirkwood.
But some species have mechanisms that repair the body seemingly forever. The freshwater Hydra shows no signs of aging. Sponges and corals are known to live for thousands of years, while some sharks, and whales, can reach an age of over 200 years.
‘It should theoretically be possible to programme our genome so that we achieve better maintenance and repair’, said Kirkwood, who thinks it is highly unlikely that the first 150-year-old has been born.
‘We do not need one discovery that gives us 500 years of longer life. All it takes is that next year I find something that makes us live one year longer. If I can do that every year, people will live much longer’, said Stuart Kim.
It would guarantee that he won the bet; but the drawback is that he himself will be dead long before it is settled.
‘The good news is that I do not have to pay if I lose. Grand-children must pick up the bill’, said Kim with a smile.
The world’s oldest, verified, person was Jeanne Clement. She was born in 1875 in Arles, France, and died 122 years and 164 days later in 1997. The next on the top-five list was ‘only’ 119, or possibly 117 years of age.
Jeanne Calment, 122 years
Sarah Knauss, 119 years
Lucy Hannah, 117 years
Marie-Louse MKeilleur, 117 years
Emma Moreno 117 years *
Moreno is still alive in spring 2017
Source: NTB scanpix / Norway Today