5-6 November 2004, EMBL Heidelberg, Germany
"Time is the river which carries me away, but I am that river;
time is the tiger that devours me, but I am that tiger"
J. L. Borges, Labyrinths, 1970
Science and technology have a pervasive impact on the way people live their lives. The steep rise in average life expectancy everywhere in the affluent, technologically developed parts of the world is one striking example. The first part of the upcoming inter-disciplinary conference at the European Molecular Biology Laoratory in Heidelberg will focus on what human genetics and biology have uncovered about the nature of time and aging in living organisms. We hear of 'circadian rhythms', developmental clocks, genetic re-programming, genetics of aging, chromosomal erosion, and 'apoptosis'. How can we make common sense of all the relevant biological research, and how does it inform and affect the ways we (should) live our lives, how is it likely to affect us in the future?
In focusing on specific growth-areas of understanding and know-how relevant to 'the biology of time and aging', we would like to assess the prospects that this new knowledge may provide us with cures for degenerative diseases, and thus improve the quality of our life. What effect would such progress have on the average length of the human lifespan? Will increased knowledge of the biology of time and aging enable us to distance ourselves from what have heretoforth been regarded as immutable biological determinants of the human life course? What effect would such applications of biological knowhow have on identities and inter-generational relationships? From the point of view of public good, should aging, like 'death', be regarded as 'normal' and therefore inevitable, or as a form of disease, and therefore curable? If longer healthy life becomes technologically attainable, how should the means to that end be distributed? Serious ethical issues would arise if antiaging interventions were developed and were not universally available. These are some of the fundamental questions that experts from a variety of disciplines will tackle and discuss in an open debate on the occasion of the 5th EMBL/EMBO Science and Society conference in Heidelberg 5-6 November 2004.