Tuesday, September 28, 2004

The Methuselah Mouse Prize

I can only say that Glenn Reynolds is awesome. This man's mind has to be one of the most fertile repositories of information at work today. This morning I learned of the Methuselah Mouse Prize. Maybe the rest of the literate world already knows about this project, but it's news to me. Time to add to your own store of valuable information. I say "valuable" because some day you may be reading about scientific developments derived from projects such as this.

The goal of capturing the public imagination is best achieved by a very simple prize structure, in which money is awarded simply to the producer of the world's oldest ever mouse. This should be restricted to the species used in virtually all laboratory work, Mus musculus, but no other restrictions should be placed on the way in which the mouse's lifespan is extended, except for ones that fail to maintain its cognitive and/or physical well-being. This is analogous to the situation with boxing, for example: the heavyweight championship is the one that gets by far the most publicity and money.

A major shortcoming of this simple structure exists, however. Our main purpose is to find interventions which are effective when initiated at a late age; it is very likely that interventions that are applied throughout life will always be ahead of those initiated late. Hence, there are two prizes:

- a 'Postponement Prize' (PP) for the oldest-ever Mus musculus;
- a 'Reversal Prize' (RP) for the best-ever late-onset intervention.

The Reversal Prize will not be formally instigated until November 2004, though donations to its fund are being accepted already. By this time, the Postponement Prize will have been in existence for over a year and we hope to have attracted a substantial prize fund for the Reversal Prize.

This effort is not an off the wall spike from the lunatic fringe, but a serious challenge getting serious results. Just last week I heard of a researcher, apparently well-known in her field, successfully extending the lifespan of earthworms by a factor of four or five. Historically, efforts to locate a "fountain of youth" have enjoyed serious attention, as well as alchemy, the attempt to transform some common element into gold. It is worth remembering that Charles Lindburg was alive to witness men walking on the moon.

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