The Road to Biological Immortality Opens Pandora’s Box

The Road to Biological Immortality Opens Pandora’s Box
By Wesley Kwong | May 28, 2021

Humans seeking immortality is deeply rooted in history and culture. Now, scientists are doing the same. A paradigm shift has occurred in science where all the diseases that one would associate with old age, like heart disease and cancer, are merely symptoms of the true chronic disease known as aging. This new framework also implies that aging is not natural and thus can be treatable [1]. A recent discovery pushes that vision one step closer to reality. But it also opens some possible ethical concerns.

The Horvath clock, developed in 2013 by Professor Steve Horvath of UCLA, is an algorithm that accurately predicts the biological age of a person with a median error estimate of 3.6 years. This algorithm uses 353 epigenetic markers on DNA [2]. Now, scientists have a quantitative way to definitively measure the effectiveness of potential anti aging medication and treatments [3]. The biotechnology industry quickly jumped on this and now companies, such as MyDNAge and Chronomics, started to sell kits to consumers who wanted to know how their biological age compares to their actual age. While the ethical issues surrounding traditional DNA testing (patient privacy, informed consent, and appropriate usage of data) still apply here, there are additional ethical and legal issues that governments and society must grapple with [4].

Objectivity as a Biological Metric

While the Horvath clock builds upon previous aging prediction research and provides a very accurate measurement of biological age regardless of the DNA source, more research must be done to determine what factors influence it to ensure that the algorithm is an unbiased, objective metric for all population subgroups. Currently, studies are being conducted on its validity in regards to human stages of development, biological sex, race, pregnancy, diseases, genetic factors, and lifestyle factors. Further research is also done on the optimal combination of DNA methylation factors to reduce the error estimate and improve the robustness of the estimate [5].

Legal Age

The addition of biological age brings up all sorts of challenges when dealing with boundaries established by age. It reignites the age-old discussion on whether juveniles should be tried in the justice system as adults [5]. If an 18 year old commits a crime but he is biologically and thus mentally a 17 years old, would the individual be tried as an adult or a minor? What happens in the reverse case? Another issue is retirement. The retirement age is generally the expected age where people stop working since they physically or mentally cannot perform at the expected level. But with this technology, does a 70 year old person get retirement benefits even though they are biologically 10 year younger?

Age Discrimination

Age discrimination is the unfair treatment of an employee during a decision to hire, promote, raise benefits, or layoff based on their age. This is prevented through the US through the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 for workers 40 years and older. However, age discrimination is still a significant problem as it makes up more than 1 out of every 5 discrimination cases reported to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission [6]. Discrimination based on a person’s biological age should be covered by the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 which prevents the usage of DNA tests for employment decisions [7]. But given that age discrimination is still rampant in the workplace, the addition of a biological age metric might exacerbate the discrimination. Furthermore, much like the current social stigma against obesity, there may be a stigma against people who are biologically older than their actual age.

In conclusion, the discovery of the Horvath clock will have profound impacts on humanity. Not only does it pay the way towards a healthier lifestyle and potentially eternal youth, it changes our relationship with death. Perhaps, people will seek a more fulfilling life when death becomes a solid deadline instead of some nebulous ending that will happen sometime in the future. But this discovery also poses some novel ethical and legal concerns that don’t appear in a traditional DNA test. We, as a society, need to grapple with these concerns to ensure that the Belmont principles are upheld when this revolutionary technology matures and leaves Pandora’s box.

1. “A Conceptual Shift to (Finally) Seeing Aging as the Cause of Age-Related Disease.” Fight Aging!, 15 Jan. 2021,
2. “DNA Methylation Age and the Epigenetic Clock.” DNA Methylation Age Calculator,
3. Yacoubi, Mehdi. “How Healthy Are You? The New Horvath Clock Will Tell You.” Medium, Vital Health, 7 Oct. 2020,
4. Charles Dupras Postdoctoral Fellow, et al. “New DNA Test That Reveals a Child’s True Age Has Promise, but Ethical Pitfalls.” The Conversation, 12 Oct. 2020,
5. Bell, Christopher G., et al. “DNA Methylation Aging Clocks: Challenges and Recommendations.” Genome Biology, vol. 20, no. 1, 2019, doi:10.1186/s13059-019-1824-y.
6. Kita, Joe. “Age Discrimination Still Thrives in America.” AARP, 30 Dec. 2019,
7. Spiggle, Tom. “The Legality of DNA Testing In The Workplace.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 11 Aug. 2020,