Emily Willingham in Scientific American:
The chorus of the theme song for the movie Fame, performed by actress Irene Cara, includes the line “I’m gonna live forever.” Cara was, of course, singing about the posthumous longevity that fame can confer. But a literal expression of this hubris resonates in some corners of the world—especially in the technology industry. In Silicon Valley, immortality is sometimes elevated to the status of a corporeal goal. Plenty of big names in big tech have sunk funding into ventures to solve the problem of death as if it were just an upgrade to your smartphone’s operating system.
Yet what if death simply cannot be hacked and longevity will always have a ceiling, no matter what we do? Researchers have now taken on the question of how long we can live if, by some combination of serendipity and genetics, we do not die from cancer, heart disease or getting hit by a bus. They report that when omitting things that usually kill us, our body’s capacity to restore equilibrium to its myriad structural and metabolic systems after disruptions still fades with time. And even if we make it through life with few stressors, this incremental decline sets the maximum life span for humans at somewhere between 120 and 150 years. In the end, if the obvious hazards do not take our lives, this fundamental loss of resilience will do so, the researchers conclude in findings published on May 25 in Nature Communications.
“They are asking the question of ‘What’s the longest life that could be lived by a human complex system if everything else went really well, and it’s in a stressor-free environment?’” says Heather Whitson, director of the Duke University Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development, who was not involved in the paper. The team’s results point to an underlying “pace of aging” that sets the limits on lifespan, she says.