Posted on Jun 18, 2021, 4 p.m.
Philosophers, artists, and scientists - and probably all the rest of us – have long obsessed over the key to human immortality. Now, a new study gives us evidence for our inevitable death.
A study led by Fernando Colchero, University of Southern Denmark and Susan Alberts, Duke University, North Carolina, that included researchers from 42 institutions across 14 countries, provides new insights into the aging theory “the invariant rate of ageing hypothesis”, which states that every species has a relatively fixed rate of aging.
“Human death is inevitable. No matter how many vitamins we take, how healthy our environment is or how much we exercise, we will eventually age and die,” says Fernando Colchero.
He is an expert in applying statistics and mathematics to population biology and an Associate Professor at the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, University of Southern Denmark.
Humans, gorillas chimps, and baboons
“We were able to shed light on the invariant rate of ageing hypothesis by combining an unpresented wealth of data and comparing births and deaths patterns on nine human populations with information from 30 non-human primate populations, including gorillas, chimpanzees, and baboons living in the wild and in zoos,” says Fernando Colchero.
In order to explore this hypothesis, the researchers analyzed the relationship between life expectancy, which is the average age at which individuals die in a population, and lifespan equality, which measures how concentrated deaths are around older ages.
Their results show that, as life expectancy increases, so does lifespan equality.
So, lifespan equality is very high when most of the individuals in a population tend to die at around the same age such as observed in modern Japan or Sweden – which is around their 70s or 80s.
However, in the 1800s lifespan equality was very low in those same countries, since deaths were less concentrated at old ages, resulting also in lower life expectancy.
“Life expectancy has increased dramatically and still does in many parts of the world. But this is not because we have slowed our rate of aging; the reason is that more and more infants, children, and young people survive and this brings up the average life expectancy,” says Fernando Colchero.
Same pattern for our forefathers
Previous research from some of the authors of the study has unraveled the striking regularity between life expectancy and lifespan equality among human populations, from pre-industrial European countries, hunter-gatherers, to modern industrialized countries.
However, by exploring these patterns among our closest relatives, this study shows that this pattern might be universal among primates, while it provides unique insights into the mechanisms that produce it.
“We observe that not only humans, but also other primate species exposed to different environments, succeed in living longer by reducing infant and juvenile mortality. However, this relationship only holds if we reduce early mortality, and not by reducing the rate of ageing,” says Fernando Colchero.
Will science beat evolution?
Using statistics and mathematics the authors show that even small changes in the rate of ageing would make a population of, say, baboons, to demographically behave as a population of chimpanzees or even humans.
“Not all is lost," says Fernando Colchero, "medical science has advanced at an unprecedented pace, so maybe science might succeed in achieving what evolution could not: to reduce the rate of ageing.”
This work was supported by the National Institute of Aging, Max Planck Institute of Demographic Research, and the Duke University Population Research Institute.
The scientific article ”Long Lives of Primates and the ‘Invariant Rate of Ageing Hypothesis” has been published in Nature Communications.
Researchers from 14 countries have contributed. From SDU: Fernando Colchero, Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, Dalia A. Conde and Johanna Staerk, Department of Biology, and José Manuel Aburto and James W. Vaupel all from the Interdisciplinary Center on Population Dynamics.
This article was written by Birgitte Svennevig at the SDU News
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before making any changes to your wellness routine.
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