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Space Flight at 50: The Journey Continues

Interview With Michio Kaku, Author of 'Physics of the Future'

How science is shaping our destiny

Q. What happens when you actually do starve yourself?

A. Your cells don't age quickly, but you become sluggish, lethargic, you lose all interest in sex, you lose all joy, you become depressed. We want to isolate the gene that will give you the benefit of caloric restriction without you having to starve. Several candidates have been proposed. At Harvard, there's a gene called SIR2 that's being looked at very carefully. It is also linked to red wine.

Q. This is the resveratrol effect?

A. Yes, but you have to be very careful. SIR2 and resveratrol are not the fountain of youth. If you go to the drugstore, there are all these promises of "lose 10 years"; most of those claims are fake. They can get away with it because those products are unregulated by the FDA; they can say pretty much whatever they want. The media, of course, loves to make claims about the fountain of youth. Don't believe it. No one has it. But we're getting close.

Q. So what will that fountain of youth look like?

A. In the future, I can imagine that we will genetically modify ourselves using the genes that have doubled our life span since we were chimpanzees. We'll also make sure that the genes' repair mechanisms are intact so that the cells remain young, and we'll reset all biological clocks and use genes like SIR2 which will give us the benefit of caloric restriction. We're not there yet, so don't believe products that claim it. However, I can see that our grandkids may grow up to be 30, and just stop.

Q. Stop?

A. Yes. Our grandkids may not want to age beyond 30. It's reasonable to assume that they'll have that option. Our kids are going to see the beginning of this and will be the first generation to benefit. Our grandkids, by the time they grow up, may actually have the ability to stop aging at a certain point.

Q. Please explain tissue engineering?

A. Organ failure is one reason for health to decline. Right now we can grow organs in the laboratory from your own cells. We can grow heart valves, blood vessels, bone, noses, ears. The first bladder was grown four years ago.

Q. How?

A. We get a sponge — a mold in the shape of an ear, bone, nose. We put in cells from your own body so there is no rejection mechanism, and hit it with growth factors so it proliferates. The plastic is biodegradable.

Q. When will these move from labs to actual transplants?

A. That will still take time for FDA approval — five to 10 years. The first liver will probably be grown in five years. That'll be huge because liver failure is a very common health problem.

Q. What innovations in the book will help people improve their lifestyles?

A. In the future, you will have the Internet in your contact lens. You'll blink and go online. If you want to have a bridge game with three people in Alaska, Russia and South America, you simply blink and see the images of people around a table.

Next: Will driver's licenses disappear? >>

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