Reversed Aging, Pig Organs, and the Future of Humankind
Predictions from the most influential geneticist of our time
For a man playing God, George Church certainly looks the part. Over the past 45 years, the Harvard geneticist and his bushy white beard have published hundreds of papers and earned dozens of patents expanding our ability to read, write, and edit DNA, the code of life. He was among the first to apply the gene editing tool CRISPR to mammalian cells (he tied with his former postdoc). Church and his eclectic lab have pushed bioengineering in multiple directions, showing how it can be used to resurrect mammoths, eradicate malaria-carrying mosquitos, produce atmosphere-cleansing bacteria, and even detect bits of dark matter pelting us from space. He once stored 70 billion copies of his book, Regenesis, in a drop of DNA the size of a period after translating it into the As, Ts, Cs, and Gs of DNA’s double helix. But we wanted to talk with Church about the future of humanity, and to that end, he mused on pig organs, dating apps, brains in a dish, and artificial intelligence. This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Are you hopeful about humanity?
George Church: If you look out into space, so far all we see are dead rocks. I’m very concerned that that’s not a great alternative, and we need to do everything we can to preserve our species until we get some evidence that there’s something out there that’s as good. It’s not even clear that, if we disappeared, the apes or the squids would take our place. I guess more to your point, what are my odds that the species will make it 100 years? I just have no idea.
Lots of people want to extend their lifespans. What’s your approach to increasing longevity?
There are nine pathways, according to review articles. It would be naive to think that there is going to be one magic bullet, some simple food or drug or absence of food that’s going to do it by itself. One key pathway is the reduction of inflammation. There are anti-inflammatory proteins that can be delivered either locally or systemically. Another pathway is restoring function in mitochondria, the…