Maximum life span

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Maximum life span is a measure of the maximum number of years a member of a group has been observed to survive. Maximum life span literally corresponds to the age at which the oldest known member of a species or experimental group has died, or the current age of the oldest living member, if higher. Maximum life span is contrasted to mean life span (average lifespan or life expectancy). Mean life span varies with susceptibility to disease, accident, suicide and homicide, whereas maximum life span is determined by "rate of aging". Epistemologically maximum life span also depends upon initial sample size.[1] In animal studies, maximum life span is typically taken to be the mean life span of the most long-lived 10% of a given cohort. This may be taken to be "definition 2" of 'maximum life span.'


The oldest recognized person on record is Jeanne Calment, a Frenchwoman who lived for 122 years and 164 days. Maximum life span for humans has remained about 115−120 calendar years throughout recorded history, despite steady improvements in life expectancy. Reduction of infant mortality has accounted for most of this increased average longevity, but since the 1960s mortality rates among those over 80 years has decreased by about 1.5% per year. Advances in medicine, calorie restriction with adequate nutrition, or other interventions are said to have slowed the aging process, but have not been proven to extend the maximum human life span (see below). This information has led to a hypothesis that the human body may have some sort of automatic "shut-off" switch, and it will get to a point where, no matter how healthy an individual has remained, their bodies simply cannot go on any longer.

The maximum life span of each species is different. These differences demonstrate the role of genetics in determining maximum life span ("rate of aging"). The records are:

The longest-lived vertebrates have been variously described as

Non-vertebrate species that continue to grow (i.e. clams, coral) can live hundreds of years, such as:

Plants tend to come in annuals, biennials, and perennials. The longer-lived perennials, woody-stemmed plants such as trees and bushes, often live for hundreds and even thousands of years (one may question whether or not they may die of old age). A giant sequoia, General Sherman is alive and well in its second millenary. A Great Basin Bristlecone Pine is almost 5000 years (4844 years), and Prometheus was even older, more than 5000 years.

Although considered fiction for a time, recent research has indicated that bowhead whales recently killed still had harpoons in their bodies from the 1790s, which, along with analysis of amino acids, has indicated a maximum life span so far of 211 years [3]. Birds and squirrels rarely live to their maximum life span, usually dying of accidents and disease. Grazing animals show wear-and-tear to their teeth to the point where they can no longer eat, and they die of starvation.

The maximum life span of most species has not been accurately determined because the data collection has been minimal and the number of species studied in captivity (or by monitoring in the wild) has been small. Maximum life span is usually longer for species that are larger, can fly and have larger brains. Of the approximately 20,000 to 25,000 genes in the human genome, it is estimated that only 2% of these are different from those of a chimpanzee, which has an average lifespan of 52 years. The difference in longevity could be due to as few as a hundred genes or less, however there may be other factors which influence the life span of chimpanzees.

Identical twins tend to die within 3 years of each other, whereas fraternal twins tend to die within 6 years. Aging theories associated with DNA include programmed aging (or programmed aging-resistance) and theories that link aging with DNA damage/mutation or DNA repair capability.

Increasing maximum life span

Currently, the only (non-transgenic) method of increasing maximum life span that is recognized by biogerontologists is calorie restriction with adequate nutrition. However, this is true only if we use definition 2 of maximum life span, as caloric restriction has not yet been shown to break mammalian world records for longevity. Rats, mice and hamsters experience maximum life span extension from a diet which contains 40−60% of the calories (but all of the required nutrients) which the animals consume when they can eat as much as they want. Mean life span is increased 65% and maximum life span is increased 50%, when calorie restriction is begun just before puberty. (For a recent review of maximum life span extension by calorie restriction in rodent studies, see GENES & DEVELOPMENT; Koubova,J; 17(3):313-321 (2003)[3]). For fruit flies the life extending benefits of calorie restriction are gained immediately at any age upon beginning calorie restriction and ended immediately at any age upon resuming full feeding [[SCIENCE; Mair,W; 301:1731-1733 (2003)[4] ].

Mammals fed anti-oxidants show up to a 30% increase in mean life span, but no increase in maximum life span. Antioxidants are most valuable for animals that are cancer-prone, or subjected to radiation or chemical toxins. There are evidently homeostatic mechanisms in cells that govern the amount of allowable antioxidant activity. Many life-extensionists have dismissed the value of antioxidants simply because they have not been shown to increase maximum life span, but such a view neglects the significance of an extended mean life span.

Many transgenic species of mice have been created which have maximum life span greater than that of wild-type or laboratory mice, including Ames dwarf mice, Snell dwarf mice, mice with increased mitochondrial catalase, and others.

Some biomedical gerontologists (gerontologists who search for ways to extend maximum life span) believe that biomedical molecular engineering can someday extend maximum lifespan and even bring about rejuvenation.

One such researcher is Aubrey de Grey, who calls his project to reverse the damage we call aging SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence). Dr. de Grey has established the The Methuselah Mouse Prize to award money to researchers who can extend the maximum life span of mice.

Research data concerning maximum life span

  • Selected species of birds and mammals show an inverse relationship between telomere rate of change (shortening) and maximum life span[8]
  • Females express both more Mn−SOD and more glutathione peroxidase antioxidant enzymes than males, and this has been suggested to be the reason females live longer than males in mammalian species[10]
  • A comparison of 7 non-primate mammals (mouse, hamster, rat, guinea-pig, rabbit, pig and cow) showed that the rate of mitochondrial superoxide and hydrogen peroxide production in heart and kidney were inversely correlated with maximum life span[12]
  • A study of several species of mammals and a bird (pigeon) indicated a linear relationship between oxidative damage to protein and maximum life span[14]
  • Drosophila (fruit-flies) bred for 15 generations by only using eggs that were laid toward the end of reproductive life achieved maximum life spans 30% greater than that of controls[16]
  • The capacity of mammalian species to detoxify the carcinogenic chemical benzo(a)pyrene to a water-soluble form also correlates well with maximum life span[20]


  1. Leonid A. Gavrilov & Natalia S. Gavrilova (1991), The Biology of Life Span: A Quantitative Approach. New York: Harwood Academic Publisher, ISBN 3-7186-4983-7
  2. [1], [2]
  3. Koubova J, Guarente L. (2003). "How does calorie restriction work?". GENES & DEVELOPMENT. 17 (3): 313–321. PMID 12569120.
  4. Mair W, Goymer P, Pletcher SD, Partridge L. (2003). "Demography of dietary restriction and death in Drosophila". SCIENCE. 301 (5640): 1731–1733. PMID 114500985.
  5. Herrero A, Barja G. (1997). "Sites and mechanisms responsible for the low rate of free radical production of heart mitochondria in the long-lived pigeon". MECHANISMS OF AGING AND DEVELOPMENT. 98 (2): 95–111. PMID 9379714.
  6. Pamplona R, Portero-Otin M, Riba D, Ruiz C, Prat J, Bellmunt MJ, Barja G. (1998). "Mitochondrial membrane peroxidizability index is inversely related to maximum life span in mammals". JOURNAL OF LIPID RESEARCH. 39 (2): 1989–1994. PMID 9788245.
  7. Pamplona R, Portero-Otin M, Riba D, Requena JR, Thorpe SR, Lopez-Torres M, Barja G. (2000). "Low fatty acid unsaturation: a mechanism for lowered lipoperoxidative modification of tissue proteins in mammalian species with long life spans". JOURNALS OF GERONTOLOGY SERIES A BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES AND MEDICAL SCIENCES. 55A (6): B286–B291. PMID 10843345.
  8. Haussmann MF, Winkler DW, O'Reilly KM, Huntington CE, Nisbet IC, Vleck CM (2003). "Telomeres shorten more slowly in long-lived birds and mammals than in short-lived ones". PROCEEDINGS. BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES / THE ROYAL SOCIETY. 270 (1522): 1387–1392. PMID 12965030.
  9. Perez-Campo R, Lopez-Torres M, Cadenas S, Rojas C, Barja G. (1998). "The rate of free radical production as a determinant of the rate of aging: evidence from the comparative approach". JOURNAL OF COMPARATIVE PHYSIOLOGY. B, Biochemical, systemic, and environmental physiology. 168 (3): 149–158. PMID 9591361.
  10. Vina J, Borras C, Gambini J, Sastre J, Pallardo FV. (2005). "Why females live longer than males? Importance of the upregulation of longevity-associated genes by oestrogenic compounds". FEBS LETTERS. 579 (12): 2541–2545. PMID 15862287.
  11. Schriner SE, Linford NJ, Martin GM, Treuting P, Ogburn CE, Emond M, Coskun PE, Ladiges W, Wolf N, Van Remmen H, Wallace DC, Rabinovitch PS. (2005). "Extension of murine life span by overexpression of catalase targeted to mitochondria". SCIENCE. 308 (5730): 1909–1911. PMID 15879174.
  12. Ku HH, Brunk UT, Sohal RS. (1993). "Relationship between mitochondrial superoxide and hydrogen peroxide production and longevity of mammalian species". FREE RADICAL BIOLOGY & MEDICINE. 15 (6): 621–627. PMID 8138188.
  13. Barja G, Herrero A. (2000). "Oxidative damage to mitochondrial DNA is inversely related to maximum life span in the heart and brain of mammals". THE FASEB JOURNAL. 14 (2): 312–318. PMID 10657987.
  14. Agarwal S, Sohal RS. (1996). "Relationship between susceptibility to protein oxidation, aging, and maximum life span potential of different species". EXPERIMENTAL GERONTOLOGY. 31 (3): 365–372. PMID 9415119.
  15. Cortopassi GA, Wang E. (1996). "There is substantial agreement among interspecies estimates of DNA repair activity". MECHANISMS OF AGING AND DEVELOPMENT. 91 (3): 211–218. PMID 9055244.
  16. Kurapati R, Passananti HB, Rose MR, Tower J. (2000). "Increased hsp22 RNA levels in Drosophila lines genetically selected for increased longevity". JOURNALS OF GERONTOLOGY SERIES A BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES AND MEDICAL SCIENCES. 55A (11): B552–B559. PMID 11078089.
  17. Orr WC, Radyuk SN, Prabhudesai L, Toroser D, Benes JJ, Luchak JM, Mockett RJ, Rebrin I, Hubbard JG, Sohal RS (2005). "Overexpression of glutamate-cysteine ligase extends life span in Drosophila melanogaster". THE JOURNAL OF BIOLOGICAL CHEMISTRY. 280 (45): 37331–37338. PMID 16148000.
  18. Friedman DB, Johnson TE. (1988). "A mutation in the age-1 gene in Caenorhabditis elegans lengthens life and reduces hermaphrodite fertility". GENETICS. 118 (1): 75–86. PMID 8608934.
  19. Bluher M, Kahn BB, Kahn CR. (2003). "Extended longevity in mice lacking the insulin receptor in adipose tissue". SCIENCE. 299 (5606): 572–574. PMID 12543978.
  20. Moore CJ, Schwartz AG. (1978). "Inverse correlation between species lifespan and capacity of cultured fibroblasts to convert benzo(a)pyrene to water-soluble metabolites". EXPERIMENTAL CELL RESEARCH. 116 (2): 359–364. PMID 101383.

See also

External links

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