Viewpoint: We still haven’t agreed on the definition of biological aging. That needs to change

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I’ve been committed to understanding the biology of aging since I was a teenager, and my education and career took aim at this problem from many angles. One aspect that still perplexes me is that there isn’t a good, easily communicable answer to this simple question: What is biological aging?

When it comes to biological aging research … scientists finally have a pretty good understanding of the major components of aging. But there’s no consensus definition of it that consolidates the existing framework.

Why do we need such a definition of biological aging? A good definition can grab the essential characteristics of an entity and put them to good use.

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The myriad definitions of biological aging help identify some necessary components of it. But an aggregated mash-up won’t guarantee a formally correct and useful definition. Identifying the content itself is not enough, especially when dealing with such a complex and lifelong process. Just because we have found most of the puzzle pieces does not mean we can put the puzzle together without a clue to its shape.

A confident answer to the question “What is biological aging?” in humans will help us ensure that complexity does not hide any magical mysteries. Controlling that complexity to maximize a healthy lifespan wouldn’t need a magic wand, either.

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