What we really need is for people to be healthy and productive for a greater portion of their lifespan.

Re-engineering humans

Re: ?What if humans were designed to last??1 Except in those areas of the world where food shortages, war and disease are major threats, most people can now expect to live longer than their grandparents did. Those of us fortunate enough to be living in the wealthier parts of the world are doing well in the longevity stakes. We are healthier, fitter, bigger, and stronger, on average than preceding generations. Perhaps we should be concentrating on making this possible for the majority of human beings instead of on making immensely extended life possible for a few.

Marie Cooper
Norwegian Institute for Fisheries & Aquaculture Research
Tromse, Norway

According to the GAO, the overhang of unfunded commitments for the USA exceeds $50 trillion and is increasing...


1. S.J. Olshansky, et al. ?What if humans were designed to last?? The Scientist, 21(3):28?35, March 2007. 2. www.gao.gov/financial/fy2006/fy06cgstatement.pdf

Another aging theory

Re: ?New data contradict aging theory.?1 Since a small number of mitochondrial mutations could reduce oxidative radicals that damage DNA and thereby slow aging, and a large number of mutations could decrease cell viability, perhaps aging depends on the degree of mitochondrial impairment.

Henry Chang
National Institutes of Health

1. M.L. Phillips, ?New data contradict aging theory,? The Scientist Daily News, March 5, 2007, www.the-scientist.com/news/display/52925/

Biology?s grand unifying theory?

The primary reason for the criticism that assails Geoffrey West?s treatment of Kleiber?s Law1 is that his treatment of it is extremely incomplete, and is characterized by hyperbolic statements that suggest he has never done the mathematics. He avers that the equation is about the relation between metabolic rate, body mass, and metabolic efficiency, yet I have only seen one treatment of the equation that contained a term for metabolic efficiency.

West et al., in their article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences,2 hint that Kleiber?s law might hold the secret to the aging process. Then they make the incredibly naïve claim that a rat and a pigeon of the same mass have equal metabolic rates despite life span potentials that differ by a power of 10. Nothing is said about metabolic efficiency, and how it might differ from bird to mammal. Instead their claim eliminates any attempt to understand aging in terms of this equation.

They say that the equation is about basal metabolic rate, and that such a rate is entirely due to the vascular delivery of nutrients. In 2005 West et al.3 let slip that the equation might also be about field metabolic rate, and about neural networks, not just vascular ones. Yet they have yet to follow up on this aspect. Instead they engage in contortions to account for a mechanism that makes the equation relevant, and seize upon fractality and how it lends itself to superior delivery of nutrients, invoking an extra dimensionality. They cannot escape Euclidean geometry when, instead, the term for metabolic efficiency clearly indicates that the mechanism is one of electrochemistry, not fluid dynamics.

Gregory C. O?Kelly
San Luis Neuroscience Laboratory
San Luis Obispo, CA


1. B. Grant ?The powers that might be,?The Scientist, 21(3):42?8, March, 2007. 2. G.B. West, et al., ?Allometric scaling of metabolic rate from molecules and mitochondria to cells and mammals,? PNAS, 99:2473?8, 2002. 3. G.B. West, J.H. Brown, ?The origin of allometric scaling laws in biology from genomes to ecosystems: towards a quantitative unifying theory of biological structure and organization,? J Exper Biol, 208:1575?92, 2005.

Protecting basic science research

Re: ?Protect basic research: UK scientists?1 For too long, the perception has been allowed to circulate among policymakers that if only scientists would patent or commercialize the results of their research, the public purse could be saved from the burden of funding basic research. The truth however, is that basic research, by definition, guarantees neither a patentable invention nor a commercial result.

However, as Phil Willis points out, ?there is no applied or transitional research unless you have good basic research in the first place.? Applied research may turn up a patentable invention or be commercially exploitable, but without good basic research, it?s much more difficult and unlikely to be achieved. The flaw in this perception ? and which encourages the sort of recommendations which the Cooksey Report made2? is that it grossly underestimates the importance of well-funded basic research, which is usually paid for by the public, not private, purse.

Once you look behind the success stories of patented science, you?ll generally find that without the basic research that led to the applied research that in turn led to the patented science, there would probably be no patented science. For example, the applied science conducted by Chiron and that led to the development of hepatitis C virus diagnostics relied upon the vast resources of the US Centers for Disease Control. It?s easy now to see how successful Chiron has been, but without the CDC?s support in the 1980s, Chiron would not be where it is today.

Luigi Palombi
Australia National University
Canberra, Australia

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