The Real Secret to Figuring Out How Long You Have Left to Live

Illustration for article titled The Real Secret to Figuring Out How Long You Have Left to Live

Any boardwalk palm reader will try and convince you that there's a lifeline on your hand, a marking that can show just how long you're destined to remain on this world. While your palm creases may not actually hold that information, it appears that it may be hiding in your telomeres — the protective DNA caps on the end of chromosomes.

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Researchers analyzing zebra finches found that by measuring telomere length when the birds were young, they could predict how long the creature would live. With lifespans varying from just 210 days all the way up to nine years, there was an incredibly strong association between how long each bird's telomeres were, and how long they lived.

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Illustration for article titled The Real Secret to Figuring Out How Long You Have Left to Live

What the researchers discovered by tracking and sampling 99 finches over the period of years, was that the telomere length at a young age — just 25 days — was the most accurate "tell" for the natural lifespan of the bird. This is the end of the main growth period of the bird, and gave the best information.

It's not immediately clear if this measurement would work with other animals too, or at what point in their life the readings would be best — but it's certainly an interesting idea. Would you even want to know how long your natural lifespan would be? Or would it be a step towards a Gattaca situation?

Image courtesy of Paul Jerem

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DISCUSSION

GregEganist
GregEganist

This was the subject of Heinlein's very first published story: "Life-Line", who worked out the implications with his typically brilliant extrapolations. Why isn't this story the first thing that comes to mind when people talk about lifespan prediction?

Because Sonny Bono changed the copyright law at Disney's insistence. You can only find the story in ancient, long-out-of-print anthologies. When the story was written in 1939, copyright lasted for 56 years. "Life-line" would have come into the public domain in 1995, and would be a standard trope by now, a familiar work by one of America's leading authors. Instead, it's long forgotten. It won't become public domain until 2058 (Heinlein's death in 1988 + 70 years).

So authors did themselves no favors by supporting the Copyright Act of 1976, and the Mickey Mouse Protection Act of 1998. It wasn't done for their benefit, of course, or for that of the public at large.