back to article Easter Island dirt may hold key to longer life

A group of US scientists believe that an anti-fungal agent found in the soil of Easter Island may have life-extending properties. When the compound rapamycin was fed to middle-aged mice, life expectancy is claimed to have been raised by 28 per cent in males and 38 per cent in females. The findings published in the journal …


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  1. E 2


    they should be rubbing it on athlete's feet!?

  2. Henny

    people living longer = more people

    "If rapamycin - or drugs like rapamycin - works as envisioned, the potential reduction in overall health cost for the US and the world will be enormous."

    Yeah, and the world population will expand massively too causing lots of other problems.... :-(

  3. jake Silver badge


    ""If rapamycin - or drugs like rapamycin - works as envisioned, the potential reduction in overall health cost for the US and the world will be enormous.""

    Surly longer-lived humans will lead to more total humans on the planet at any given time, and more OLD people, to boot. Older people have more health issues than younger folks, so the total cost of health care will go UP, not down ... Maybe I'm missing something.

  4. g e

    I've been in aging research for 35 years

    ... and I don't feel a day older.

  5. Irk


    Kind of creepy that this magic anti-aging drug comes from an island with no indigenous animals left.

  6. Chris C

    Call me an ass

    Call me an ass, but isn't death (the progression of "aging" to its natural conclusion) a vital part of population control? Not to mention most elderly people (at least in the US) already don't have enough money to survive through "the golden years". This is, however, the perfect ruse for the US government to increase the retirement age again. And since the Social Security Administration has been saying that by year 2017 they'll pay more in benefits than they collect in taxes, and by year 2041 the the Social Security Trust Fund will be exhausted (at which point they'll only be able to pay 78 cents for each dollar of scheduled benefits), this announcement couldn't have come at a better time (for the SSA). Of course, they could prevent some of that if they stopped people abusing the Social Security system (by claiming disability benefits when they're not really disabled, etc).

    Personally, I think people's fear of death is amusing, particularly religious people who believe in an afterlife. Don't get me wrong, I don't WANT to die. But we're all going to die, so it's useless to fear it. If there is an afterlife, and your god really does love you, then you'll find happiness in the afterlife. If there is no afterlife, then that's it -- blackness, nothing, you simply cease to exist -- so there's nothing to fear.

    The only real benefit of anti-aging drugs would be the slowing of the body's deterioration (so a slight fall would not break a hip, so a person wouldn't become as weak, etc).

  7. Charlie Barnes


    So you can live forever in a bubble.

  8. Keith T

    It is pretty easy to extend the life of mice.

    Animals that only live a couple of years aren't fine tuned for longevity. They are tuned for reproduction, hiding, hunting, ability to eat rotten food, etc., but not longevity.

    It is much easier to extend their life expectancy.

    You can reduce the temperature of their living environment, or vastly restrict the calories in their diet, cut this or that out of their diet. There are many blind stabs in the dark that will extend their life spans.

    It is not so easy with animals like humans that are already tuned for longevity.

  9. Anonymous Coward

    fungus + magno treatment = world domination


    /me gets his dirty magnetized coat

  10. Angus 2
    Thumb Down


    The dodgy pharmaceutical spammers are really going to love this one.

  11. Jack 4

    "Oh Noes! Population Growth!"

    First of all, when this comes along (If it does.) it's likely to be expensive. Which means it's likely to be used only in the wealthier countries. Which, coincidentally, already have shrinking birth rates, and would already have shrinking populations if it weren't for immigration from other countries with higher birth rates.

    Secondly, all that aside, *I* personally would like to have another 20 or so good years, and I would like my friends and already existing family to have that, and I think that most people are likely to feel that way themselves. If that means that people are going to need to learn to live with having only one or two kids instead of three or four or more, I'm perfectly fine with that.

  12. Charles Manning


    You're right. The primary purpose of medical research is to make more money.

    More and more money is spent on medical procedures than ever before. Twenty years ago hip replacements were rare. Now they're as routine as kids getting their tonsils out. Society, through NHS or private medical insurance, really can't afford to give every citizen an artificial hip.

    Keeping people alive beyond their natural lifespan requires exponentially more medical intervention.

    Feeding people longevity pills will just keep them alive longer. If the pill also delays aging then it will just delay that ultimate decay.

    The only way this technology could reduce expense is to feed people the stuff until they're 65 or 70 - delaying aging and reducing medical expenses - then take the stuff away so that the decay is swift and death comes fast.

  13. Steve Swann

    Longevity & Social Impact

    There have been a few posts above that run along the lines of "Anti-aging can't be good because it would lead to increases in population and greater demand on natural resources." or, following a more philosophical line of "Surely death is part of life and we must accept our fate" - the old Four Score and Ten line, as it were.

    Now, whilst I don't wholly disagree with those sentiments (especially as regards over population), I'd like to take the opportunity to play devils advocate for a moment (I can almost never say that phrase without a recollecting Homer Simpsons Pinball machine. heh.)

    * The ideal population for earth, according to NeoCon philosophy in the US is approximately 600k - Yes, six hundred thousand, less than 1% of current levels. This figure is the 'optimal level for resource sustainability' - well, we're already WAY outside of that!

    * The largest populations occur in the least wealthy nations as a rule of thumb, so I doubt that they will benefit from the emergence of a (no doubt) very, very expensive designer drug in the west. We need only to look at how the various AIDS treatments have been handled to see the effect that such a drug would have on the 'emerging world'.

    * It was only a century ago that the average life-expectancy of persons living in the western industrialised nations was around HALF of the current expectation, yet we don't complain that people are living too long by those standards. The idea that life is curtailed by some 'moral marker' in the form of 'an appropriate death following a suitable life' is purely a religious construct, and not a biological one. This increase in life-span is no less natural than the idea of a drug found in soil - we've brought it about through our science; understanding diet, surgery, and far less 'natural' drugs, as well as through social evolution. I don't hear anyone saying that these are bad things (well, maybe some religious fundamentalists, but they are barely worth listening to.)

    * If resources were correctly managed, and not owned by vast multi-national corporations (who stockpile and waste on incredible scales) then the population of Earth could be easily sustained. It's not that there are insufficient resources, it's that the resources are owned by a tiny fraction of the global populace.

    Overall, I think we should welcome anything that enchances the length and/or quality of life for all human-kind, but it should be a cautious welcome until we truly understand the ramifications of the technology in question.

  14. Anonymous Coward

    Population growth

    And resource depletion is not a tightly coupled phenomenon.

    Sometimes the commentors on this site need a good kick in the head, they remind me of rabid little Daily Mailers, oblivious to the wider world and their place in it.

    Viewing the world through their monitor blinds them to the causes and processes occuring around them.

    I blame the Medja ! Simple news for simple people has been their mantra for far too long, a rush to the lowest common denominator.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    The human race has to come to terms with taking a responsible attitude to breeding, sooner or later, regardless of how long each of us live. Just wish they'd have managed it already.

    Main problem I see is what the point is in having more years sitting in a home with one's mind all but gone. And surviving in this world is stressful enough before that anyway.

  16. Winkypop Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    Oh dear

    Another 20+ years of life.

    Better stay working until I'm 80 then....

    : (

  17. Nigel 11


    "If rapamycin - or drugs like rapamycin - works as envisioned, the potential reduction in overall health cost for the US and the world will be enormous."

    Not unless it causes an extension of healthy life followed by a rapid terminal decline.

    If, as seems more likely, it slows down the ageing process, then it means that more people will develop one of the degenerative diseases of old age and then they'll stay alive with it for longer. So it will be robbing Peter to pay Paul -- making a short-term saving to health budgets but pushing a greater cost out a decade or two in time.

  18. Lionel Baden

    so thats why the pope lives so long

    he always kisses the ground !!!!

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Why this probably won't work

    Maybe, just maybe, suppressing the immune system is not such a brilliant idea, eh? I mean, it's not like we have a lot of antibiotics left to lean on in the fight against infections. I suspect this is a problem that will solve itself.

  20. Graham Bartlett

    Older population and finances

    The standard response to improved lifespan stuff is usually "great, I get a longer retirement". Things don't work out like that though.

    First obvious move is that the retirement age will go way up, so you'll be working for longer. You'll probably still get a longer retirement though, and there'll be more people surviving to that age, so next obvious move is major reduction in pensions from public money. Anyone starting work at that point will have plenty of time to build up savings for a pension, but anyone already retired will probably get majorly screwed over.

  21. Mark Lawson


    "...and I for one welcome our geriatric murine overlords...."

  22. Britt Johnston

    long way to go

    Rapamycin is used for transplants and, more recently cancer. It will thus be much more expensive than Viagra.

    Regarding immune suppression, the idea of good drugs is to selectively block the immune system, rather than knock everything out. People with transplants survive fine, though they should take some care to check for infections and cancer.

    However mTOR (look in Wikipedia) blockers are not really working via the classical immune systems. MTOR is a relatively recently recognized cellular mechanism which looks to be central, with any number of interesting effects. Wikipedia mentions losing weight, for instance.

    Why did they decide to look at rats? I imagine the lifetime Tox. studies done by Wyeth must have already thrown up the property. Imaging explaining to your boss that the launch must be delayed for a year, because the rats aren't dieing properly.

  23. Jeff 10

    Try it on Bernia Madoff!

    Let's try a human trial on Bernie- then he could serve more of his 150 years sentence!

    @Chris C:

    But, what if there is an afterlife, and your god hates you?

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "But, what if there is an afterlife, and your god hates you?"

    It must do, or it wouldn't have dumped me here.

  25. WhatWasThat?

    Better living through chemistry/medicine?

    The problems we have as humans don't care how old you get to be. If I may:

    1. Population. Not everyone deserves offspring; pure and simple. You don't have to plonk out 12 kids anymore because 11 of them will die before the age of 10 - we are even able to keep deformed and crippled alive and suffering well into their their twenties and beyond. The idea that any one person's genetics are special enough *and that they are automatically passed on to all your offspring* is egotistical genetic avarice. Anyone attempting to "ensure" it happens (designer genetics, IVF, Catholics) are simply trying to have the bigger, badder, shinier SUV in their utereus. Err... carpark.

    2. Resources. It does not matter whether a minority (person) or majority (corporation, gubmint, etc.) controls the resources of an area. If you give each individual all the resources they are apportioned or that they "need", the majority of them will squander the share they are given and kick and scream that someone else still has any when they come up short. That's the curse of "human nature"; we never have "enough". In order to live "sustainably", we have to bring everyone _down_ to a common standard of living, and all the death, disease, and pain that it brings. Oddly enough, Americans in 1700/1800's were more apt to do this as a whole society than any other; the mass migrations out of the comfortable cities into the wilderness and death of the Louisiana Purchase and the West. ( There are others; don't get your panties in a bunch - just not as a percentage of population (without cause of volcanoe, glacier, war or other "natural" disaster). Try telling the newly middle-class in India or Russia that they have to go back to "sustainable" levels - no cars, no unlimitied electricity (if any at all), all the food you eat you have to grow/raise yourself. Not many volunteers, eh?.

    3. Religion. Religion has nothing against longevity. Judism (and by extension, Christianity and Islam) have published how our ancestors lived for hundreds of years. If you are _really_ bored, try calculating out the ages of everyone in "Numbers" for yourself. There is nothing inherently "righteous", noble, or grand about living a short life or a long one; its always about what you do with your life. If you are a rat b@stard who lives 200 years or 12 years, you are still a rat b@stard.

    The problem is that we fear death, as life is all that we "know". The human race is still tribal; "my family and I have more right to X than anyone else's family", etc. and we still extend this thinking on macro levels of communities, state, countries, and continents. There are thoughts that this is inherent because of our evolution, and there are thoughts that if we weren't brought up in a world of "scarcity" we would not act this way ( Which is true? Well, if Muhammed wrote, "the Jew is thy brother", why is there a problem in the Middle East?

  26. Anonymous Coward

    Randy Strong

    Cue Beavis & Butt Head style sniggering...

  27. jake Silver badge


    "3. Religion. Religion has nothing against longevity."

    Religion has nothing to do with longevity. Longevity is a modern phenomena, brought on by knowledge of nutrition and medicine. Proper daily exercise helps, too.

    "Judism (and by extension, Christianity and Islam) have published how our ancestors lived for hundreds of years."

    Yes. They have "published" tall tales of longevity, with zero proof. Some people believe the tales, despite evidence to the contrary. (Hint: There have been exactly zero human bones dug up that prove to have been interred for over 2,000 years which show signs of being over 80ish years old at time of death.)

    "If you are _really_ bored, try calculating out the ages of everyone in "Numbers" for yourself."

    Been there, done that[1], using modern translations, as well as the ancient Aramaic, Koine Greek & Latin variations. The numbers(sic) the translations claim aren't always in alignment throughout history, and are laughable when compared to reality.

    The various works of Judaism & its derivatives are badly flawed when taken in a literal context. But whatever. Follow your bliss.

    [1] My Masters minor was a variation of RS that I wrote myself (don't ask).

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