The Pharaohs of Egypt were considered living Gods and getting old was a bit of a problem. They attempted to become young again by performing a ritual. The Pharaoh would wrestle with a young man, and also run around to show everyone that he was born again as a young man.
Ancient Egyptians were so in love with life that they wanted to wake up again after death with all the daily comforts. This is why we find furniture in their tombs. They wanted to take the couch into the afterlife. While these things may seem odd to us, Ted Anton’s book reminds us that our attitudes to aging remained weird up until recent times. In the 1920s people associated fertility with youthfulness. So desperate were men to revive their youth, that they had goat and monkey testicals implanted into their bodies to increase fertility. Things got less weird when in the 1930s a professor demonstrated that mice lived 40% longer when they ate 30% less food. This discovery energized scientists and they thought maybe they can better understand this thing we call aging. In 1974 Congress did something brilliant. They created the National Institute of Aging (NIA) to study and research this ancient enemy of mankind.
The 1970s were exciting times, when disco music was making an entrance. People were experimenting with bell bottom jeans, bad haircuts and very large collars. Now thanks to to NIA, humanity would for the first time engage in an organized effort to study the mysteries of aging. Conferences were held. Sandwiches would be eaten. Yet these never went beyond long discussions and speculations. And while these thinkers talked to each other, the world ignored them. Questions remained unanswered. Why do we get old? How does this aging thing work? Can we reverse it? The scientists needed a breakthrough so they could take it to the world and say, ‘see we are getting somewhere.’
This great turning point in history was provided by humble worm! A scientist by the name of Tom Johnson studied the worm and its reproduction in the lab. While everyone else was dancing disco and watching shows like Colombo and Rockford Files, Tom Johnson obsessed over how long worms lived and how they were different from their siblings. He discovered that every time worms reproduced, a percentage of children lived 50% longer. A great moment in history had arrived.
In 1979, scientists did not attempt to find out if life extension in worms was being caused by a single gene. They did not have the swift technology to explore the nineteen thousand genes present on the worm’s six chromosomes.
It could now be stated that a single gene was responsible for a longer life. Suddenly the world woke up to aging research! Larry King sent a limousine to Tom Johnson’s house to interview him on CNN. Tom Johnson refused because he did not want popular fame but was seeking recognition from the world of science. He felt that Larry King did not represent science. Johnson wrote scientific essays calling this gene age-1
. In 1988 Johnson stated that age-1 actually slowed down aging. The ancient Egyptians would have been delighted! Johnson wrote a scientific paper to the journal Science
but they did not send him a limousine. They just kept silent and for 18 months he heard nothing. Finally they published his paper in 1990. His discovery was worth millions. Read about this fascinating journey in Ted Anton’s book: