There are many studies that involve extending the lives of laboratory animals – through gene manipulation, pharmaceutical intervention, and dietary restriction. But according to Steven Austad, a biologist at the Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies, these manipulations “pale in comparison to the remarkable diversity of lifespan produced by evolution.” He points out that maximum life span across the animal kingdom varies 40,000-fold. For example, some adult flies live less than an hour; some shellfish for centuries. Among mammals alone, longevity varies 1,000-fold.
The average fruit fly lives a little more than a month, so scientists’ ability to double its lifespan is a remarkable achievement but Austad says we may be missing something by focusing so much of our longevity research on animals—flies, worms, mice—that are “demonstrably unsuccessful at combating basic aging processes.” He suggests we put more effort into understanding molecular solutions nature has devised to help long-living creatures evade their deaths.