Contributor corner: Virginia Hughes

Virginia HiughesVirginia Hughes is a journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. She is a contributing editor at Popular Science and at MATTER, a digital publication for long-form journalism. She writes about the brain, behavior and genetics on her blog, Only Human, which is hosted by National Geographic Magazine.

Twitter: @virginiahughes

What is your feature about?

It's about a scientist who wants to live forever and who thinks the key to immortality lies in the genes of four little girls who have a rare disease that keeps them from growing.

What did you learn that you didn't expect?

Two big things:

I thought that the scientist was going to end up being a crank -- I mean, really, immortality? That idea has been debunked since Gilgamesh. But the scientist's basic idea -- that there are profound biological links between the process of development and the process of ageing -- is supported by a lot of evidence and believed by many other scientists.

I was also shocked to find out how little money and attention go to ageing research given how important it is to our understanding of disease. As I say in the piece, age is a top risk factor for heart disease, stroke, dementia, and cancer -- for most people in the West, age is the biggest risk factor for death. Many ageing researchers believe that we'd get much more traction from unraveling the mechanisms of ageing than of attempting to "cure" cancer. And I think that's a compelling argument.

Read Virginia's feature on Mosaic, publishing 20 May 2014.