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Nobel-winning biologist on the most promising ways to stop ageing

Efforts to extend our lifespan continue and many look promising, but success will have unintended consequences, says Nobel prizewinner Venki Ramakrishnan

By Graham Lawton

18 March 2024

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Ula Šveikauskaitė

ANTI-AGEING is big business. From books encouraging diets such as intermittent fasting to cosmetic creams to combat wrinkles, a multibillion-dollar industry has been built on promises to make us live longer and look younger. But how close are we really to extending our lifespan in a way that gives us extra years of healthy life?

Nobel prizewinner Venki Ramakrishnan, a molecular biologist and former president of the UK’s Royal Society, is the latest to tackle this question. He has spent 25 years studying the ribosome, which is where our cells make proteins using the information encoded in our genes, at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK.

In his latest book, Why We Die: The new science of ageing and the quest for immortality, he goes on a journey around the cutting-edge biology of human ageing and asks whether it will be possible to extend our lifespan in the near future.

He talks to New Scientist about the recent breakthroughs in our knowledge of what causes ageing, how close we are to creating therapeutics to combat it, and the potential consequences if we succeed.

Graham Lawton: What inspired you to take a break from a hugely successful career researching how cells make proteins to write a book about ageing?

Venki Ramakrishnan: Two things. One is that the translation of genetic code into proteins affects almost every biological process, and it turns out to be central to many aspects of ageing.

The other reason is that we have worried about ageing and death ever since we…

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