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Faye Flam

No, Humans Don’t Have a Natural Lifespan of 38

A cool new study on longevity got distorted by the popular press.

Plenty left in the tank.

Plenty left in the tank.

Photographer: Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Biologist Benjamin Mayne certainly generated a lot of media attention with his research showing that the natural human lifespan is 38 years. If he’s right, then the implications are huge — for starters, we would have to rethink our entire health care system. That system is based on the (perhaps unrealistic) assumption that deaths not attributable to accident or violence are due to disease, and that all diseases can be conquered with enough medical research.

What if, instead, we’re programmed to die before we’re even old enough for a midlife crisis?