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CO2 and the Fountain of Youth:
Similar Findings in Diverse Fields of Study Suggest We Begin a Serious Search for Linkages

Volume 1, Number 7: 15 December 1998

In the 30 October 1998 issue of Science, Yi-Jyun Lin, Laurent Seroude and Seymour Benzer of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena report the existence of a mutant methuselah gene that enhances the resistance of the common fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) to various forms of stress and enables it to live about 35% longer than normal.  They also note that certain other strains of fruit flies that display delayed senescence exhibit enhanced abilities to withstand the stresses of heat, desiccation, food deprivation and oxidative tissue damage.  And they cite related studies of mutant lines of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans that also live longer than normal, presumably as a result of enhanced resistance to thermal and oxidative stresses.

So what do these findings have to do with CO2?  Probably nothing; but possibly a lot.

In this issue we report the results of several recent atmospheric CO2 enrichment studies that were conducted in tandem with the imposition of a number of different environmental stresses.  As can be seen, atmospheric CO2 enrichment of plants tends to counteract the same environmental stresses that are ameliorated by the methuselah gene of D. melanogaster and the comparable mutations of C. elegans: heat or thermal stress, desiccation or water stress, food or light deprivation (insufficient light leads to insufficient "food" production in plants), and oxidative stresses.  And these observations drive us to ask what few people have ever thought to explore: Is there a common thread that links these biochemical phenomena across the vast molecular expanse that separates plant from animal?

This question may sound like the teaser for a bad Outer Limits program.  But consider these words from Paul Berg - Cahill Professor of Cancer Research and Director of the Beckman Center for Molecular and Genetic Medicine at Stanford University - and Maxine Singer - Scientist Emerita at the National Cancer Institute and President of the Carnegie Institution of Washington - which they wrote in an Essay on Science and Society in the same issue of Science that contained the report of Lin et al.:

"Molecular genetics has revealed a wealth of detail about many biological systems.  Still, current ignorance is vaster than current knowledge.  ? There are, in nature, concepts that no one has yet imagined.  Looking over the past 150 years ? it seems that the fringes, not the mainstream, are the most promising places to discover revolutionary advances."

Does this mean that the rising CO2 content of earth's atmosphere will make us all live longer?  Probably not; but who knows what a few well-conceived research programs designed to probe this question might ultimately reveal.  There are enough tantalizing correspondences turning up in the fields of CO2 and aging research that they almost beg to be seriously scrutinized within this context.

Dr. Craig D. Idso
Dr. Keith E. Idso
Vice President

Berg, P. and Singer, M.  1998.  Inspired choices.  Science 282: 873-874.

Sin, Y.-J, Seroude, L. and Benzer, S.  1998.  Extended life-span and stress resistance in the Drosophila mutant methuselahScience 282: 943-946.

15 December 1998