The Biology of Living and Dying

Open—Fall

“He not busy being born is busy dying.” —Bob Dylan Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have discovered that a gene used by the tiny worm C. elegans to regulate how much it eats, how fat it becomes, and how long it lives is strikingly similar to the gene for the human insulin receptor. Poets and scientists agree. Eating and getting old, sex and death…these processes seemed inexorably linked. A single gene that governs what you eat and how long you live: What’s the link? Why is obesity now described as an epidemic in the United States? Can we live longer by eating less? Why is it so hard for people to permanently lose weight? Why should there be a gene that causes aging? If aging is a deliberate, genetically programmed phenomenon and not just the body wearing out, might modern biology be able to find a cure? Is it even ethical to try to pursue a fountain of youth? This course will explore these and other questions about the biological regulation of eating and body weight and the process of aging and death. Open to any interested student.