The study of aging has had a long reputation of quackery and wild speculative theories. Francis Bacon took note of this problem in 1645 in his Historia Vitae et Mortis: "With regard to the length and shortness of life in animals, the information to be had is small, observation careless, and tradition fabulous." But by applying the tools of molecular biology to the question of the causes of aging and death, researchers have lately been pulling the field into mainstream respectability and potential applicability.

Today, researchers are searching not for a fountain of youth but rather for the genes of youth. And a number of the genes governing key aging processes have so far been uncovered--at least in fruit flies, yeast, and roundworms. Moreover, scientists say these genes are just the beginning and herald a golden era of research in a field that should yield solid information on the biochemical...

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