Living Forever? Bad Idea, Say Biologists

Ageing and death are not something human beings generally look forward to but biologists say that immortality could prove a disadvantage to the survival of our species.

What's the Latest Development?


If humans became immortal, the species would be at a biological disadvantage, says evolutionary biologist Andre Martins of Brazil's University of Sao Paolo. In a computer simulation which pits an immortal species against one which prunes its population, the species that grows old "can drive immortal competitors to extinction," writes Martins. "This counter-intuitive result arises from the pruning caused by the death of elder individuals. When there is change and mutation, each generation is slightly better adapted to the new conditions."

What's the Big Idea?

What are the prospects for immortality? Futurist Ray Kurzweil believes that computer technology will advance far enough by 2030 that human minds will be uploaded onto servers, thus achieving a kind of body-less immortality. The British gerontologist Aubrey de Grey predicts that "in 2,0008, the first child to live to 1,000 would 'already have been born'. He focuses on approaches that 'defeat' ageing in the body." Our natural death exposes the complexity of evolution through paradox: The goal of procreation is punctuated by death.

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An Atlantic horseshoe crab in an aquarium. Photo: Domdomegg via Wikimedia Commons.
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American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin poses at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979. (Photo: Ralph Gatti/AFP/Getty Images)
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