What Is Calico Labs?

The California Life Company might sound like an insurance company. Still, they’re a research and biotech company dedicated to studying aging and how to reverse it and cure the diseases that come with it. Calico, for short, is a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google. They have the money and power to answer why a mole rat lives 30 years but a mouse only three. This research is relevant for many doctors, other health institutions, and even the cosmetic sector. So, let’s take a more in-depth look at Calico Labs and their focus on health, well-being, and longevity.

What Is Calico Labs?

This company in South San Francisco was founded in 2013 by Bill Maris, a venture capitalist, and Larry Page, the co-founder of Google. They’re working to answer the age-old mystery of, well, aging. With 1.5 billion dollars in the bank, they can hire the best scientists to study naked mole rats. Wait, what do mole rats have to do with aging?

San Francisco

The Mole Rat

This small hairless rodent is native to the Horn of Africa. They aren’t conventionally beautiful and can look a bit creepy, but some people love other hairless animals like Xoloitzcuintles and Sphynx cats. These rats are fascinating in many ways.

For one, they live completely underground in a very complicated socio-structural society, kind of like ants, led by a queen mole-rat. There’s almost no oxygen under the earth, yet, they manage to function well and survive. They don’t have any neurotransmitters in their skin, so they can’t feel pain and are surprisingly resistant to cancer. However, one of the most surprising things is how long they live. Thirty years is unheard of in such small rodents.

So, as you can see, these animals are an enigma, and a big data subject of study for many scientists interested in aging, skin generation, and cancer, among many other things. They’re challenging to study, though, even through interdisciplinary effort. Their lifespan depends greatly on their environment, so they need large spaces to dig and highly specialized diets. Therefore, to study them in their natural habitat, you’d have to have a large space to create their ideal environment. It is a project that would require a lot of money and human resources.

mole rat

Calico’s Quest to Reverse Aging

Just south of San Francisco, California, there’s a Calico laboratory dedicated to life sciences. It’s home to a large number of mole rats. This lab aims to find the causes of aging and reverse them. Living forever and trying to deter aging is a very common thought among many people. It can even consume a person’s life to the point you create a multi-billion dollar institute. Furthermore, there are a lot of ridiculously wealthy people who gladly donate to Calico labs.

There are logical reasons to think they can solve aging. For example, Cynthia Kenyon, vice president of aging research, was one of the first people Calico hired. She had shown that by altering a single DNA letter of a roundworm, you could make it live six weeks instead of three, 20 years before. Not only was she able to expand their lifespan, but she also noticed that the worms physically appeared healthier and younger.

What’s Aging?

From the moment of contraception, your body begins to change and transform. Aging is visible during the first 30 years of your life as you transform from a baby to an adult. At this peak, your body continues to do the same thing. However, instead of growing, it begins to deteriorate from environmental damage. It is a normal process and will eventually lead to death. The only way to avoid it is not having been born at all.

So, why are we so scared of aging? It’s because dying of old age is a very modern thing. Throughout history, it was usually associated with disease and weakness. Even 100 years ago, most deaths were from infections or malnutrition. However, with modern science and medicine, most humans can age gracefully without fearing illness. Today, the average person can expect to live past their sixties.

The damage you experience as you age takes a big toll on your body. Exposure to the sun, substances, chemicals and other factors can lead to cancer, which are abnormal cells that don’t regenerate correctly. Therefore, it’s important to age healthfully by caring for your body physically and mentally.

A longer life brings many opportunities, not just for you and your family but also for society. You can contribute to the workforce for a longer period and have more time to pursue new things, such as a career or education. However, this all depends greatly on how healthy you are. Unfortunately, many older people are physically or mentally unable to do many activities during the last years of their lives.

Scientific evidence suggests that humans have never extended their lifespans, just that we’ve learned to age more gracefully and to our fullest potential. Calico Labs is taking a step ahead with that in mind. They’re not only interested in the process of aging but also in how to expand it even more than is naturally available to humans.

woman examining the wrinkles on her face


Calico hires scientists with a broad range of skills and experiences and encourages them to collaborate freely. They’ve built many small laboratories with investigators working to understand the biological pathways of aging and disease. These efforts are accelerated by advanced computing and state-of-the-art technology.

According to their site, their research efforts fuel intellectual freedom and creativity. However, behind this open façade lies quite a secretive workplace. There’s little knowledge about what’s studied besides the research on organisms like yeast, worms, mice, and naked mole rats. They haven’t published any scholarly articles and rebuffed journalists. Not only that, they ask visiting scientists to sign nondisclosure agreements before they let them in.

This secrecy has frustrated other researchers at the government-owned National Institute on Aging. They’ve expressed that they wish they knew what Calico was doing to focus on other things or collaborate with their findings. A research institute should be researching something, shouldn’t it?

The truth is that aging is a mystery and needs to be studied from the bottom up. That is, studying the basic functions of microorganisms such as yeast. Understanding how it ages at a cellular level may provide important insight into how higher-level organisms such as humans age.

Calico scientists aren’t the first to study yeast. Yeast has always been an organism of interest because of its simplicity. However, this company is providing the researchers with the technology and resources to do it more efficiently. For example, in the past, biologists had to isolate and count by hand the number of times a mother cell divided, which was an extremely inefficient and time-consuming task.

The invention of The Miniature-Chemostat Aging Device (MAD) made it easier to overcome the challenges in studying replicative yeast lifespan, such as separating mother cells from daughter cells. It allows scientists to purify 50 million old cells in a single test tube. It facilitates the efforts to characterize the molecular phenotypes of aging.

Additionally, a microfluidics-based platform allows them to observe the entire aging process in single cells. There are hundreds of thousands each week. It means that scientists can screen for things that make yeast live longer.

Calico’s advanced technology condenses years and years of looking through a microscope. Their computers can observe and locate when a mother cell divides and create an automated analysis with the information related to aging. As a result, scientists have the time to explore more of the genetic and environmental landscape that governs how single cells age.

The rat is another animal Calico has been interested in as it defies the concept of living longer by taking better care of yourself. The research found that when this animal has good living conditions, with a lot of food and shelter, it grows faster. On the other hand, it hunkers down to survive and grows more slowly when it’s under stress, like heat or starvation. As a result, it lives longer than normal, up to 45 percent more.

David Botstein, Calico’s chief scientific officer, is the one that’s shed some light on their secrecy. He admits that nobody will live forever as that’s just physically impossible, but they’re there to answer many of the basic questions that come along with aging.

As it’s a new subject of study, Botstein compared it to doctors fighting infections before knowing what a virus or cancer was. There were many theories, but they couldn’t take any direct action before understanding the root of the problem. So, this is the true answer as to why they reject most interviews – they don’t have anything to say yet.

Botstein estimates they’ll have something important to say in the next ten years. As for now, they’ll continue to make small breakthroughs such as mapping genomes and being able to understand them. Recently, they announced a partnership with Ancestry to study the human heredity of lifespan. However, only time will tell what Calico will discover.

woman touching the fine lines above her upper lip

How to Age Gracefully

Our society is constantly telling us that aging is bad. The media sets our beauty standards and can lead to many serious conditions such as body dysmorphia. You must remember it’s a natural process and that you’ll never look like you did when you were 20. Aging is about living your best life by having the best physical and mental health possible.

Take Care of Your Skin

The skin is your body’s largest organ and is directly in touch with your environment as its task is to protect you from bacteria, chemicals, and temperature. It regulates your body temperature and also provides you with sensations.

The state of the skin is one of the biggest indicators of aging as, over time, it becomes less elastic and stretches and begins to sag causing wrinkles. It is one of the biggest reasons people get plastic surgery and lifts, but these are just superficial cures and won’t cure the actual aging process your body is going through.

The sun is the skin’s biggest enemy, so always wear sunscreen and protective clothing when outside. It also depends on what part of the world you live in and how much exposure you have to it. You can schedule yearly appointments with your dermatologist so they can screen you for skin cancer. Furthermore, avoid any harsh chemicals in any of your skincare products. Lastly, stay hydrated. Hydration is a big source of your skin’s elasticity.

woman applying sunscreen on her face


You can decrease the risks of age-related diseases such as heart disease and cancer by doing regular exercise. Furthermore, it helps you retain your mobility and flexibility. It also lowers stress and improves sleep which are other factors that can affect how you age. Physical activity also lowers the “bad” cholesterol and increases the “good” one.

Exercise doesn’t mean you have to get a gym membership. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults do aerobic activities like walking throughout the week. It is particularly helpful for those who work at a desk all day long or have a sedentary lifestyle.

Eat Well

As you age, your body requires different proteins and vitamins. Eating a balanced diet and choosing specific foods to target specific problems is the way to go. To age gracefully, you’ll need foods packed with antioxidants, healthy fats, water, and essential nutrients.

For example, you can get these fats for your skin from fatty fish and avocados. Fruits and vegetables have powerful antioxidants that can protect the skin from cellular damage. Remember, try to keep processed and refined sugars to a minimum as these contain chemicals that will fast-forward the aging process.

woman eating healthy

Mental Health

Unlike rats, stress shortens human lifespans, so it’s important to have good mental health if you want to age well. Try to keep a balanced work and social life, and see a therapist if you’re experiencing anxiety or depression. They’ll be able to find a solution that works best for you. You must maintain a good attitude about aging. It’s inevitable and embracing it is the best thing you can do. Not only will it reduce stress, but you’ll also feel more motivated to stay healthy.

Spending time with friends and loved ones improves your mental health and overall well-being. It includes your furry pals, which have been linked to reducing stress and blood pressure. Furthermore, it would help if you found time to do the activities you enjoy. There’s a lot of evidence stating that people who engage in hobbies, leisure, and social activities are happier overall and live longer.

Some age-related mental problems, such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s, can be very difficult to deal with. However, stimulating your brain from an early age can help. Take the time to do some puzzles and have fun. You can also do other activities like taking a class or reading a book. Just keep your mind working.

Moderate Your Alcohol and Smoking

Both substances cause premature aging and increase the risk of disease. Moderating or completely abstaining from these substances might be a good idea if you’re worried about getting older. The CDC doesn’t condone smoking, but with alcohol, they recommend women have no more than one drink per day and men two if they want to avoid health risks.

laughing group of women returing from exercise

Get a Good Night’s Sleep

It’s important to sleep well for your mind and body to rest. It would be best if you tried to get eight hours of sleep every night. However, you also need to consider other things such as your lifestyle and age and how it’ll affect the quality of your sleep.

Changes in the hormones your body produces, such as melatonin and cortisol, play a role in disrupted sleep in older adults. Your body secretes less of them as you age. This hormone is normally produced as a response to darkness that helps coordinate your circadian rhythms.

Mental and physical health conditions can also interfere with sleep. Some that commonly affect sleep in older people include depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, and conditions that cause discomfort and pain, such as arthritis.

Calico Labs and other research and biotech companies are continuing to study the mystery of aging, but they don’t have a solution; this is your best shot for now. We’re excited to learn more about their findings as they progress. 

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