L.S. Coles

Perhaps 135,000 years ago, in Africa, the earliest known Homo sapiens were thrust into an intensely-competitive game-of-chance played according to the rules of an indifferent casino. We can only imagine, from our present vantage point, the sort of harsh world our ancestors routinely endured. The other species in this game-of-survival did not hesitate to kill and eat their prey, and we imagine that humans were no exception to this law of the jungle.

However, between 10 and 15 thousand years ago, humans declared the game over. We won! All of our predators, including other primates in the genus homo, were effectively neutralized. The rest of the wild animals were bred to become pets or domesticated animals. Otherwise, they were extinguished. Then, we went on to invent agriculture, using leisure time to compile a recorded history, and allowing for the birth of civilization.

However, something new occurred as a side effect of inventing civilization. We uncovered a never-seen-before phenomenon called "aging." Recall that there are no old animals, except in zoos. All biological systems obey the laws of physics, and the phenomenon of entropy affects all sexually-reproducing creatures who live beyond their "biological warranty period." Entropy derives from the fact that we are all constructed of stochastic, fragile, molecular tinker-toy parts. Entropy renders us vulnerable to a random set of age-related diseases, once we are no longer protected by the ingenious information programs contained within our DNA that give rise to embryogenesis, puberty, and the birth of our progeny. Once these programs run out of things to do, we fall victim to "molecular infidelity."

To overcome this constraint, previously concealed within the game, we will need to understand the biological limits on human life expectancy and maximum lifespan (the "rectangular curve"). The Gerontology Research Group, affiliated with the UCLA School of Medicine, has compiled and maintained a Table of Worldwide Living Supercentenarians (persons 110 years or older) for the last four years. The numbers of such distinguished persons has been relatively stable, ranging from 35 to 45. The current version of this Table can be found on the Internet at Our lists shed important light on the biological limits of human morbidity and mortality. We will attempt to summarize this data in the context of human Life-History Tables, as well as tables gathered from other species, to provide us with a realistic perspective on the possibility for long-term interventions.

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