J. Craig Venter on Living Well to the Age of 150 and Beyond

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

J. Craig Venter J. Craig Venter (Brett Shipe)

Aging. It's a universal disease, and an inescapable killer.

As more and more individuals in the developed world manage to escape premature death, life expectancy has grown dramatically in our time. Diseases like cancer and dementia can be understood as consequences of a deteriorating body for reasons science still doesn't understand. We're exploring what might be considered the natural limits of the human body, and some believe that we can choose to push those limits out.

What is a human lifespan? Is there any reason why we can't function biologically and mentally for 200 years? This is a cultural and policy question we will be exploring all week.

Would you want to live to 100? What worries you about our society if everyone could? Tell us the story of how you want to age.

Genomic and synthetic life scientist J. Craig Venter says aging is a phenomenon we can control and arrest through genomic science. He believes that by aggressively accelerating human mapping we can better understand—and prevent—the consequences of human aging.

J. Craig Venter's new project is called Human Longevity Inc. and comes with private funding and an association with the University of California San Diego. The company will combine genetic and medical data at a massive scale to come up with new ways to predict, prevent and treat diseases of aging, such as cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer's. Venter says it will be the largest DNA sequencing operation in the world—capable of processing 40,000 human genomes a year. 

"Age is the number one risk factor for every disease, but it's not treated as a disease on its own," says Venter. 

To crack the question of aging, Venter says his new project will connect layers of information that have never been put together, starting with the entire human genome and then layering in the genetic code of the microbes, in addition to measuring proteins and chemicals.

"We'll be doing tests that people won't necessarily be able to get anywhere else, and combining that all together," says Venter. "We're trying to get the whole picture and create a database that can actually become really predictive of what's associated with disease and what's associated with health."

While average life expectancy isn't expected to creep up to 150 anytime soon, Venter says that if humans live longer—and healthier—then we can all lead more productive lives. Right now, Venter says citizens are paying in to the retirement system for their "normal careers," which has presented challenges now that humans are living much longer and withdrawing from a system that was never intended to support a longer lifespan. 

"We can solve all the economic problems by simply changing the retirement age to age 75, and still have another 20 or 30 years of healthy life after that," he says. "[If] people have a chance to be productive longer, it's good for them and good for society—retirement generally isn't good for anybody."

It seems that living well is the key to this project. Venter points to his own mother, who is 90-years-old and is "mentally intact." However, he says that despite her sharp wits, her physical self is not progressing the same way, saying that her body is "starting to wind down" and getting frail.

"There's ways, we think, in the future to change that, and at least keep people more active for a longer period of time," he says. "We're not trying to push to get 150 or 200 as a lifespan—we have a lot of other problems on the planet that we have to solve—but healthcare is now the single most expensive thing in our economy. If we go to a preventive medicine paradigm, if we try to prevent diseases instead of waiting to treat them in end stages after they occur, we can lower the healthcare budget and have people live a healthier life."

Venter says his team will be looking for protective aspects of the human genome to better fight and understand diseases of aging. 

"With the FDA, we're already beginning a dialogue with them—I think the FDA is critical for this," says Venter. "Regulating test [sic] I think is an important thing because there are so many different kind of tests out there that aren't very meaningful. It's the quality of the information you're being given, does it mean anything and can you do anything with it? If you're trying to decide to have your breast removed, are you making that decision based on reliable data? This has to work very broadly for the healthcare industry. It has to be financially viable, it has to actually be truly actionable and reduce the cost of medicine if it's going to be highly successful. That can't be driven by the government."

So will these techniques be widely available to the public? Listen to the full interview to find out. 

Guests:

J. Craig Venter

Produced by:

Ellen Frankman

Editors:

T.J. Raphael

Comments [27]

TJ Crow from Virginia

I'd like another couple hundred. I want to see nano machines. I'd like to see how humanity survives its inevitable catastophic population decline. I'm partial to the clever critters.

Mar. 15 2014 04:29 PM
Walter Crompton from San Mateo, CA

It seems odd for little old me to say this, J. Craig doesn't seem to get it. Quoting: "We're not trying to push to get 150 or 200 as a lifespan—we have a lot of other problems on the planet that we have to solve—but healthcare is now the single most expensive thing in our economy. If we go to a preventive medicine paradigm, if we try to prevent diseases instead of waiting to treat them in end stages after they occur, we can lower the healthcare budget and have people live a healthier life." I don't know about this fellow, but we ARE trying to push 150 or 200 as a lifespan, and beyond! ...And there is NO technical problem in our time of greater import than age control (i.e., youth restoration). I could go on, but the main point is the strategic split between prevention and cure of aging. Instead of focusing on reversing the infamous seven currently incurable cellular-level diseases, he seems to be saying that we should focus on prevention. Well, at least I agree with him about the importance of collecting the genome data.

Mar. 12 2014 09:48 PM
Holly from NY

I feel that if technology existed to allow humans to live much longer, in most developed countries it would be quickly available to most reasonably well off citizens with one major caveat, and that is debt.

We could all live to be 150 or older, we would just have to mortgage it, and spend our long long lives paying it off.

Mar. 12 2014 04:00 PM
CAROLINE from NJ USA

Ha! Had a good laugh for the lady that can't find a dishwasher that lasts more than 20 years. Look down! You probably have two of them!!!!

Mar. 12 2014 01:47 PM
Isis from New York

' ...citizens are paying in to the retirement system for their "normal careers," which has presented challenges now that humans are living much longer and withdrawing from a system that was never intended to support a longer lifespan...'
I applaud Mr. Venter for exploring novel ways of improving health that would in turn extend longevity. But how will this extend productivity if with our current life span most individuals over 60 (and I'm being generous)cannot find meaningful employment. Why? Regardless of what employers say, it's about their age. Forget 150, would I want to live to 100? Only if I'm in full control of my faculties and living a "useful" life. On the plus side, I'm sure entrepreneurs out there are rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of establishing 'assisted dying' services.

Mar. 12 2014 08:36 AM
Ed from Larchmont

As one priest said, 'Who wants more of this?'

Mar. 12 2014 08:20 AM
Stan Chaz from Soylentia Greenoble

200? Hell no. Mandatory conversion to Soylent Green at age 65. No exceptions. Solves a lot of problems.

Mar. 12 2014 07:08 AM

Gold Face

Mar. 11 2014 09:24 PM
Anno from Salt Lake City

It's about resources folks. If deaths are delayed and birth rates just continue at present levels eventually society will reach unsustainable levels. We also should consider that the people who can get resources to delay aging and death will be privileged. With increasing numbers of old people, will it be necessary to ration numbers of people allowed to conceive? Might it be necessary to not permit most people to not conceive at all? Might ZPG be an intermediate step? Perhaps all people over 90 should be sent to colonize Mars? Global climate change will impact resource availability. The idea that life can go on and on to me is egotism. I'm in my mid-70s.

Mar. 11 2014 07:07 PM
Daniel from Alaska

This is a horrible way to view the value of human life and I think the way the "pro" side of this presents itself says a lot about it - All human life is good for is production and the longer we live the loger we can produce. This is the basic argument and it is horrifying to think that the main reason we are looking into longevity is to simply make people work longer.

Science is looking to make people live to 150 years, meanwhile I can't buy a dishwasher that will last more than 20. Who is really benefitting from this longevity science?

Mar. 11 2014 05:15 PM
John A

All it takes is a little bit of perspective. If my 5 past generations were around along with everybody else's, there would be no space left for children. I think children are a good idea, so no to JCV.

Mar. 11 2014 03:49 PM

Debra, contact me. jlmcguigan@hotmail.com

Mar. 11 2014 03:37 PM
Chemist150

Trees can live for millenia exampled by 13000 year old oak clones (root propagation/cuttings) among many other examples of 2 thousand year old olive trees via clones.

I imagine it's how they use their stem cells but it would be cool if we could apply the concept to humans to regenerate.

Mar. 11 2014 03:36 PM
Debra from Emeryville

I would love another 50 years! I am 62 now. If I had another 50-70 years, I would pursue a different career and do what I really should have been doing all along- art. you don't figure out what you want to in life, often until you are older.
It could be the opportunity to "if I had another chance... I would...,?
do it all over again"!
Debra

Mar. 11 2014 03:35 PM

For $40/ month you can get all the benefits Mr. Venter is talking about. You can also make a lot of money selling this health technology to others, as the company passed on distribution rights to the public to keep the cost down and avoid the elitist trap. In this type of business, you have to be extremely careful what you say and what you type around the FDA, because health care that gets to the core of our problem of aging is absolutely not favourable to the pharmaceutical industry. This product does not intend to cure, prevent, or treat and disease. (disclaimer is part of the law) As Mr. Venter stated, healthcare is the most expensive thing in our economy, with costs from Alzheimer's alone expected to devastate our economy within 15 years from the Baby Boomers, not to mention added costs from diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Prevention will lower the healthcare costs. Existing pharmaceutical companies and all the jobs included in that industry will suffer losses. It is essential that a host of new jobs be created by these up and coming leaders of the healthcare industry, by making people distributors of soon to be branded products. It is essential that proper studies and tests back up the science, as Mr. Venter said. There are independent peer-reviewed studies on this all over pubmed.gov. New science now sees the antioxidant industry is about to be overtaken by more cutting edge technology. This is a $50,000,000,000 industry and a single company is about to brand a category-creating product to take it over. It works to combat aging and to help you lead that healthy, long life we all were wishing was possible. It communicates with your DNA, combats oxidative stress which is at the heart of disease processes, and upregulates/downregulates genes as needed.

Mar. 11 2014 01:37 PM
TLS from Michigan

People are dropping out of the workforce early because there are no jobs. If you raise the retirement age to 75, i.e., I assume, make it so that no one can collect retirement benefits before 75, there will be a lot of people living in poverty. Besides, once one reaches 90 or 100, the world has changed so much that it is not home anymore. Just take for example this gay marriage debate, in which those who don't support it are ridiculed by the media and sidelined as stupid bigots. Multiply that issue by 1000, for many other issues. It would be depressing to live in a world where your culture has gone. It is natural for a younger generation to decide to disgard some old ideas, and replace them with new ones, and furthermore, gradually as you age, you lose your optimism about the future, you lose your ability to come up with innovative technological ideas. The world would stagnate. Overall, independent of individual issues, this would be deadly. Furthermore, we have entered the realm of mad scientists (again). This has happened before with the fountain of youth, and changing lead to gold, etc. Do we want to have free tinkering with the human genome? I don't want to see it.

Mar. 11 2014 01:06 PM
TLS from Michigan

People are dropping out of the workforce early because there are no jobs. If you raise the retirement age to 75, i.e., I assume, make it so that no one can collect retirement benefits before 75, there will be a lot of people living in poverty. Besides, once one reaches 90 or 100, the world has changed so much that it is not home anymore. Just take for example this gay marriage debate, in which those who don't support it are ridiculed by the media and sidelined as stupid bigots. Multiply that issue by 1000, for many other issues. It would be depressing to live in a world where your culture has gone. It is natural for a younger generation to decide to disgard some old ideas, and replace them with new ones, and furthermore, gradually as you age, you lose your optimism about the future, you lose your ability to come up with innovative technological ideas. The world would stagnate. Overall, independent of individual issues, this would be deadly. Furthermore, we have entered the realm of mad scientists (again). This has happened before with the fountain of youth, and changing lead to gold, etc. Do we want to have free tinkering with the human genome? I don't want to see it.

Mar. 11 2014 01:05 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Initially, only "the one percent" will be able to afford immortality... Scientists will be able to cure all diseases, and replace all brittle bones and non functioning organs.

The only thing "The New Immortals" will have to be concerned about is having their brains bashed in: Which can easily be fixed with a metal skull and to remain in some sort of protective bubble.

Mar. 11 2014 01:02 PM
Miguel from Seattle, Wa

Your guest Mr. Venter never said HOW we will employ people living longer but insists that we raise the retirement age. I'm in my late 50's now and having a horrible time trying to find employment after being let go from a job last August. It was a high profile job at a very well known company and I've increased my abilities since then. I've gotten much better at what I do over the last 6 months. I've sent out 25 resumes a week, make efforts to network and meet with people every week. And with all that I've only got ONE interview in the last 6 months.
There is a hell of a lot of age-ism out there and getting past it takes an effort by the companies that are doing the hiring. Your guest needs to also make efforts to change the mind set of those younger people who are doing the hiring. An up hill task at best.
Wake up and smell the roses Mr. Venter. If you live longer and don't have a retirement safety net, where will this leave all of us older folks????
And why didn't John Hockenberry even mention this part of the equation????
Lame interview when you leave out the obvious!!
Get it together people!

Mar. 11 2014 01:02 PM
Jerrold Richards from Lyle, Washington

Living indefinitely? Not a good idea, I think. That said, a few years ago I made up an A-List of things I would really, really like to do in this life. It totaled up to about 800 years. That sounds about right.

Mar. 11 2014 01:00 PM
Esteban A Perez from Fort Worth

I think it is awsome that we are talking abou this. My only fear is that only the 1% will be able to afford the earliest stages of these efforts, kind of like the recent movie Allysium.

Also we still have people aurguing about the benifits of the Affordable Health care act. It seem like a long road ahead to go from that to stoping and eventually reversing the effects of ageing.

Also what will the religous sector think? Thats just a can of worms.

Mar. 11 2014 12:58 PM
Skip Bleecker from Michigan

I am 64 and recently retired. My Grandparents lived into their 80's, and they said the worst thing about living a long time was outliving all your friends. They had 5 kids and watched them as they grew, married and had kids.

I would like to be around as my kids have kids and watch them grow up. I think that as we live longer, we will start new careers several times, keeping each one for 20 to 30 years and then moving on to something new.

I am going to try to build a career in Art, that I never quite did while working many "Day Jobs" to pay the bills while raising my family.

Mar. 11 2014 12:45 PM
kathi from philadelphia

I would like to know how these genomics will work. For example I recently had my genome sequenced with 23andme and now the FDA has stated that even though I received interpretation for my results, the rest of my family cannot get this. They can only be allowed to view raw data. This makes being able to act on the information very difficult. Will your organization be offering sequencing for the general public at an affordable price? If so how and when. Without this people will be unable to use stem cell science to make changes to their inheritance that would enable them to live much longer than the current life expectancies determined by the insurance companies. How will you be handling the insurance companies regarding this and the pharmaceutical companies?

Mar. 11 2014 12:38 PM
K J from Portland

In 2011, at age 51, I finally decided to take care of myself and have a sex change. Since the age of four, I have been struggling with my sexual identity. Now, at age 54, I feel more authentic but wish I was 30 something again. If I knew I had more than a good 20 years left to romp around the planet in my new skin my decisions regarding career and travel would be very different. I would get back into the field of film and start gathering footage of people telling interesting stories. To be honest, I have a new lease on life regardless of how much time I have left and I am going back to filmmaking.

Mar. 11 2014 12:25 PM
Pat Travell from Matthews NC

In yesterday's Charlotte newspaper there was a fascinating story about a woman in her 90's who still works and lives a productive, happy life. Whenever I hear about very old people I wonder what they did that might be different from most people. It would be great to hear what food they have eaten all their lives etc. Hopefully there is a study covering such questions. As a young person I used to joke that I would live to be 100 and add "I'm not even a quarter way there yet!" Well I'm now 78 and getting closer!

Mar. 11 2014 10:48 AM
Angel from Miami FL

For those of you in your 40s, do you really want to complain about what the kids listen to today for the next 100 years? Most people see 12-24 as the best years of their lives. Only the spend the rest of it talking up the delusion that it was a better time and NOW is horrible. People that would've passed or been ignored as seniors now having access to the young with enough time to pass on their outdated, even dangerous, ideologies. The progress of music, art, and science would slow down. The Taliban would take even longer go out of fashion.

Future hipsters would have to go back 240 years instead of 90 for which to base their weird lifestyle obsessions... because no one wants to base their subculture on their parents' history.

Mar. 11 2014 10:39 AM
SunnyGirl from South Florida

Lately I've seen my own parents approach 80, and in poor health. They are immigrants, so have not seen their own parents age and die. I find that they fear death, and so are fighting old age desperately. After mom died, dad is just not adjusting, and keeps trying new health supplements. Well, people are like plants, they grow, become productive, then die! At the age of 80, I see that they are less flexible, not only in body, but more importantly, in mind. Flexibility of mind is the most essential aspect of aging, if we can't adjust to changes, we suffer, in the sense that we get grumpy, irritable and stubborn, and become burdensome.
The most important aspect in aging well is flexibility- of mind as well as body, the body helps the brain. And Attitude. I see clearly the old man with a positive attitude about everything is limber, and accepting of his grandchildren's eccentricities and changing times in general. Dad, with his negative attitude, distrusts everyone, and is filled with fears and insecurities.
Why do people want to outlive their friends? What is the purpose of living beyond 80? Let the younger generation do it's thing, let them have their accomplishments. You don't need to be there!

Mar. 11 2014 09:59 AM

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