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Delanceyplace: Nine Steps To Living Well Forever

Medicine is beginning to turn into an information-based
science, in contrast to the hit-and-miss laboratory processes of the past. As that transition continues, success in medical treatments will begin to occur at an increasingly exponential pace, write Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman, MD.

Today, the computer in your cell phone is a million times smaller, a million times
less expensive, and a thousand times more powerful [than the computer at MIT in
1965]. That's a billionfold increase in price-performance. As powerful and influential
as information technology is already, we will experience another billionfold increase
in capability for the same cost in the next 25 years (rather than the 40 years or
so it took for the most recent billionfold increase) because the rate of exponential
growth is itself getting faster.

The other important point to make is that this remarkable exponential growth is
not just limited to computer and communication devices. It is now applicable to
our own biology, and that is a very recent change. Con¬sider, for example, the
Human Genome Project. It was controversial when announced in 1990 because mainstream
skeptics pointed out that with our best experts and most advanced equipment, we
had only managed to com¬plete one-ten thousandth of the genome in 1989. The skeptics
were still going strong halfway through the 15-year project as they pointed out
that with half of the time having gone by, only 1 percent of the genome had been
completed!

But this was right on schedule for an exponential progression. ... If you double
one percent seven more times -- which is exactly what happened -- you get 100 percent,
and the proj¬ect was completed not only on time but ahead of schedule. Similarly,
the cost for sequencing a single DNA base pair fell a millionfold over the same
period, from $10 in 1990 to less than one-thousandth of a penny in 2008.

We have exactly doubled the amount of the genetic data collected each year since
1990, and this pace has continued since the completion of the Human Genome Project
in 2003. The cost of sequencing a base pair of DNA -- the building blocks of our
genes -- has dropped by half each year from $10 per base pair in 1990 to a small
fraction of a penny today. Deciphering the first human genome cost a billion dollars.
Today, anyone can have it done for $350,000. But, in case that's still out of your
budget, just be patient for a little while longer. We are now only a few years away
from a $1,000 human genome. Almost every other aspect of our ability to understand
biology in information terms is similarly doubling every year.

Our genes are essentially little software programs, and they evolved when conditions
were very different than they are today. Take, for example, the fat insulin receptor
gene, which essentially says 'hold on to every calorie because the next hunting
season may not work out so well.' That gene made a lot of sense tens of thousands
of years ago, at a time when food was almost always in short supply and there were
no refrigerators. In those days, famines were common and starvation was a real possibility,
so it was a good idea to store as many as possible of the calories you could find
in your body's fat cells.

Today, the fat insulin receptor gene underlies an epidemic of weight problems,
with two of three American adults now overweight and one in three obese. What would
happen if we suddenly turned off this gene in the fat cells? Scientists actually
performed this experiment on mice at the Joslin Diabetes Center. The animals whose
fat insulin receptor gene was turned off ate as much as they wanted yet remained
slim. And it wasn't an unhealthy slimness. They didn't get diabetes or heart disease,
and they lived and remained healthy about 20 percent longer than the control mice,
which still had their fat insulin receptor gene working. The experimental mice experienced
the health benefits of caloric restriction -- the only laboratory-proven method
of life extension -- while doing just the opposite and eating as much as they wanted.
Several pharmaceutical companies are now rushing to bring these concepts to the
human market.

Author: Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman, MD
Title: Transcend: Nine Steps to Living Well Forever
Publisher: Rodale Inc
Date: Copyright 2009 by Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman
Pages: xiii-xvi


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