Humans Won’t Ever Live Far Beyond 115 Years

Oct 9, 2016

By Ed Yong

Jeanne Louise Calment spent all of her incredibly long life in Arles, France. She was born there in February 1875 and died there in August 1997. At the time of her death, she was the oldest person ever recorded—and she still is.

Perhaps she always will be.

For years, people have been saying that the first human who will live to 150 has already been born. That’s unlikely, say Jan Vijg, Xiao Dong, and Brandon Milholland, from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. After looking at demographic data from the last century, they think that human lifespan has a hard ceiling at around 115 years. A few rare individuals like Calment may surpass that limit, if only slightly, but on average, our species will not.


Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

10 comments on “Humans Won’t Ever Live Far Beyond 115 Years

  • Supercentenarians don’t tend to die of major diseases—Jeanne Calment died of natural causes…

    Amusing example of faulty reasoning (unless the author assumed major diseases to be caused by super-natural causes…).

    Anyhow, my gut feeling is (and we all know how one can rely on that… ask G.W. Bush) that the obsession with living ever longer rhymes a lot with the obsessive need for the ‘Absolute’ that seems to be at the very foundation of religion.

    Of course, I hope to live a healthy, long life too.

    But I also acknowledge that true renewal (both biological and, more importantly for our species, cultural) happens by one generation ultimately passing the baton to a brand new one.

    The ability to delegate is perahps one of the ‘highest’ (and most difficult to implement) mental faculties to have evolved.



    Report abuse

  • Cantaz #1
    Oct 10, 2016 at 12:00 am

    Supercentenarians don’t tend to die of major diseases—Jeanne Calment died of natural causes…

    Amusing example of faulty reasoning (unless the author assumed major diseases to be caused by super-natural causes…).

    I think this is merely explaining that supercentenarians die of worn out telomeres, rather than major infections or specific organ failures.

    http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/basics/telomeres/



    Report abuse

  • @Alan4Discussion

    I think this is merely explaining that supercentenarians die of worn out telomeres, rather than major infections or specific organ failures.

    If worn out telomeres is the issue then surely this is possible (even if very difficult but theoretically possible) to alter, after all we reset them in our babies. Is it impossible to reset them? *note I’m not suggesting we try likely to cause cancer etc. and also just make the population issue worse, just me being pedantic. Still I’m curious.



    Report abuse

  • Reckless Monkey #3
    Oct 10, 2016 at 5:00 am

    If worn out telomeres is the issue then surely this is possible (even if very difficult but theoretically possible) to alter, after all we reset them in our babies. Is it impossible to reset them? *note I’m not suggesting we try likely to cause cancer etc.

    I think the evolved function of telomeres, is to limit the age and replication of individual cells, so that as cells age and their DNA becomes corrupted, they die, rather than a proportion of them becoming cancerous!
    I very much doubt, if all the cells in a body can maintain specialist functions while being be “reset” (rather than an individual reproductive cell being reset to begin the embryonic differentiation process).



    Report abuse

  • Reckless Monkey #5
    Oct 11, 2016 at 2:39 am

    Thanks Alan, so reseting the telomeres would likely de-differentiate the bodies cells.

    I don’t know, but trying to reset telomeres on a whole set of specialised cells throughout a functioning body, seems a monumental task when compared to a single cell reset in embryology – with even that reset producing a 70% spontaneous abortion failure rate in humans.

    Cloning problems with cells other than stem cells also suggest genetic difficulties – possibly because of mutations which accumulate over time as part of the ageing process.



    Report abuse

  • Why should life come to such a crashing halt? Imagine that you have an animal that doesn’t age. Despite its immortality, it can still starve, succumb to accidents, or fall to predators. Eventually, its luck always runs out. This imaginary creature should have a demography much like ours—lots of young individuals and fewer old ones. As such, evolution should favor genetic changes that offer advantages during early life—say, in growth or reproduction. By contrast, genetic changes that cause harm during later life would be ignored—they hardly matter when so few individuals reach those ages anyway. That’s why organisms age—evolution naturally and inexorably prioritizes the young in favor of the old.

    I don’t follow the logic. Why should evolution favour the young, in this scenario? If accidents are the only cause of death, each individual has the same chance of dying in any given period, regardless of its age. Assuming that breeding happens equally regularly at all ages – say once a year – then the remaining succcessful breeding opportunities for every individual are identical, again regardless of age.

    Or am I misunderstanding something? Isn’t the author committing the fallacy of assuming that once a coin has fallen tails several times in a row, it gets more and more likely to fall heads?

    And although it’s true that if accidents are numerous, there may be a statistical ceiling on the age any animal is likely to reach, the ones who do get old will have reproduced their gene set many more times than the ones who die young. So while there are fewer old individuals, there may be just as many copies of those gene sets.



    Report abuse

  • Thinking about it more: For a gene to become dominant in a population, it must do better than the absence of that gene. So if a gene mutated that killed off the the host at some specific age, it wouldn’t become dominant, (unless it really was statistically irrelevant – i.e. that “old age” gene was the cause of almost no deaths).

    So I’m really just taking issue with the phrasing “genetic changes that cause harm during later life would be ignored”. No, any mutation that is harmful at any age, won’t become dominant. Unless that mutation also confers an advantage that compensates for the harm. That makes it clear that aging is not a feature, it’s a bug – there’s either a significant cost to actively preventing aging, or else aging comes as a side effect of some other, advantageous characteristic.

    (Aging, in this context, being almost synonymous with curtailing successful reproduction. It’s more complicated if the old individuals can’t breed, but can contribute to their offsprings’ success).



    Report abuse

  • 9
    jim.price.wa says:

    The researchers only seem to be saying that we have hit the limit for a natural human lifespan. The 150 years statement assumes some type of therapy which could arrest or even reverse aging. There are organisms that do not age in the same way as humans do (certain reptiles and jellyfish, I believe). This suggests that genetic modification to slow aging should be possible (safety is another matter entirely).

    Some combination of treatments involving stem cells, cloned organs, nano-bots or yet-to-be discovered anti-aging compounds may yet artificially extend lifespans. Unfortunately, I suspect that only rich people will be able to afford such treatments (at least at first). I would imagine that a truly safe and effective “aging cure”, is at least 50-100 years away, but if it is possible, it will be discovered. It is an interesting ethical question, in a world with limited resources, but it could become a genuine problem for future generations.



    Report abuse

  • Michael G #8
    Oct 13, 2016 at 9:10 pm

    Thinking about it more: For a gene to become dominant in a population, it must do better than the absence of that gene. So if a gene mutated that killed off the the host at some specific age, it wouldn’t become dominant, (unless it really was statistically irrelevant – i.e. that “old age” gene was the cause of almost no deaths).

    It does not work like that. If old less productive individuals, and non-reproducing members of a population are removed, this frees up resources for increases in the success of their offspring which are passing genes to the next generations.



    Report abuse

Leave a Reply

View our comment policy.