A revolutionary examination of why we age, what it means for our health, and how we just might be able to fight it.
In Cracking the Aging Code, theoretical biologist Josh Mitteldorf and award-winning writer and ecological philosopher Dorion Sagan reveal that evolution and aging are even more complex and breathtaking than we originally thought. Using meticulous multidisciplinary science, as well as reviewing the history of our understanding about evolution, this book makes the case that aging is not something that “just happens,” nor is it the result of wear and tear or a genetic inevitability. Rather, aging has a fascinating evolutionary purpose: to stabilize populations and ecosystems, which are ever-threatened by cyclic swings that can lead to extinction.
When a population grows too fast it can put itself at risk of a wholesale wipeout. Aging has evolved to help us adjust our growth in a sustainable fashion as well as prevent an ecological crisis from starvation, predation, pollution, or infection.
This dynamic new understanding of aging is provocative, entertaining, and pioneering, and will challenge the way we understand aging, death, and just what makes us human.
Mitteldorf, a theoretical biologist, and Sagan, a science writer (and the son of science educators Carl Sagan and Lynn Margulis), argue that genes are programmed to promote their own long-term survival as well as to die for group survival and population stability. The existence of cellular death programs could be seen as supporting the group selection theory of evolution, in addition to the far more accepted kin selection theory. Yet this notion is far from proven. The authors' contention that caloric restriction can lead to prolonged life is widely accepted, but the same is not true of their assertion that predators control their own numbers so they won't overwhelm their prey. Furthermore, too many unsupported statements erode the reader's confidence in the authors' thesis. The book states that "people who are most prominent in telomere research tend to believe that telomerase will prove to be the philosopher's stone, the fountain of youth, the elixir of Gilgamesh about which humanity has dreamed for thousands of years." However, the authors identify neither those prominent people nor the research leading them to that ostensible belief. This is unquestionably a fun, provocative read, but it is marred by too much hyperbole and too little support.