How our bodies could adapt to climate change

It’s widely understood that climate change poses issues for human health.

How our bodies could adapt to climate change
Women take shelter from the sun at a construction site in Ahmedabad, India, April 28, 2023. Reuters/Francis Mascarenhas

It’s widely understood that climate change poses issues for human health. With less access to clean air, clean water, enough food and liveable spaces, we’re just not as likely to live as long or as well in the future. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), ​​”Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress.” A bummer, for sure.

But temperature itself is its own issue. Scientists have noticed that many animal species live longer at lower temperatures than at higher ones. So, how does that work?

“Generally, it was thought that if an organism is exposed to lower temperature, it passively lowers their metabolic rate and that slows the release of ROS [reactive oxygen species], which slows down cellular damage,” explained Kristin Gribble, a scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory, back in 2018. “That, in turn, delays aging and extends lifespan.”

Now, scientists have seen links between temperature change and lifespan/aging when it comes to a specific protein called NPR-8. There’s been a recent study showing that lifespan shifts influenced by temperature might be linked to this protein in the nervous system. It’s responsible for regulating the production of collagens, which make up a lot of skin, bone and connective tissue for different types of animals.

Basically, scientists could build on their findings to play with collagen production, possibly slowing human aging and boosting lifespan. And this is particularly important when it comes to temperatures rising all over the world.

“Based on animal studies, scientists anticipate that human lifespan will go down in the future as climate change drives up the ambient temperature,” said senior study author Yiyong (Ben) Liu, an assistant professor in Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine and director of the university’s Genomics Service Center.

“We have found that warm temperatures leading to short lifespan is not a passive, thermodynamic process as previously thought, but a regulated process controlled by the nervous system,” said Liu. “Our findings mean that down the road, it may be possible to intervene in that process to extend human lifespan as temperatures rise.”