How many biologists does it take to make nontrivial progress on an unsolved mathematical problem for the first time in nearly 70 years? The answer is one, at least if the biologist is Dr. Aubrey de Grey, the pioneer of the repair approach to aging.
Yes, you read that right. Today, in occasion of Dr. de Grey’s birthday, we’ve decided to take a short break from biology and rejuvenation to tell our readers about the recent scientific achievement of one of the world’s most famous biogerontologists—unexpectedly, but pleasantly so, in the field of mathematics.
The chromatic number of the plane
Don’t worry if mathematics is not really your thing; we’ll keep it simple. Imagine that you have an infinitely large plane, where all points located at distance 1 from one another are connected by a straight line; any number of so-connected points, finitely or infinitely many, is called a graph. Further suppose that, for some reason, you wanted to color each point in such a fashion that no two connected points have the same color. How many different colors would you need to do this for the entire plane?
This is an open mathematical problem, called the Hadwiger–Nelson problem, and the answer, whatever that may be, is the chromatic number of the plane. Nobody knows exactly what this number is, but for decades, it has been known that it had to be at least 4 and at most 7. However, we at LEAF are not the only ones who like to take a break from biology every now and again; Dr. de Grey likes it too, and last time he had a break, he proved that the chromatic number of the plane is at least 5.
A polymath trailblazer
Earlier this month, Dr. de Grey published a paper to arxiv.org, the popular scientific preprint website, where he showed the existence of a graph with 1581 points that cannot be colored with fewer than five colors. As reported by Quanta Magazine, this result was independently verified by other mathematicians, who also managed to find other examples of such graphs with an even smaller number of points.
Dr. de Grey has thus managed to leave his mark not only in the field of biology, where he introduced the now mainstream idea of using regenerative medicine to repair age-related damage, but in that of the exact sciences as well. We are honored to have such a renaissance man on our Scientific Advisory Board, and we wish for his string of successes to be very, very long.