Geneticists Claim Aging Breakthrough

This Guardian Unlimited article reports on the claim of researchers that they have achieved a breakthrough related to the aging process.

Summed up, it comes down to:

  • Organisms live six times longer in laboratory tests
  • Cells genetically ‘tricked’ into slow-ageing mode

The slow-aging mode is related to the mechanism that kicks in when our bodies are not getting the necessary amount of nutritions: the body thinks it is going through a period of food scarcity, and knows that it can’t afford to age, because it still needs to reproduce. Therefore, aging is slowed down.

And yes, that mechanism does go back all the way to the caveman-era.

The most important thing to keep an eye on, is this part:

In the experiment, Dr Longo’s team took yeast cells and knocked out two key genes, named Sir2 and SCH9. The latter governs the cells’ ability to convert nutrients into energy. They found that instead of dying after a week, the cells lived for up to six weeks. Dr Longo said parallel experiments on human liver cells appeared to replicate the effect, but refused to elaborate until the results have been published.

The amazing thing here is… it only took minor genetic modifications to achieve a sixfold increase in lifespan.

Researchers are finding ways to modify our own genes permanently, and to produce drugs that will mimic genetic modifications by inhibiting the mRNA that our genes produce. The latter one will effectively tell a gene to shut up, which gives the same result as if you’d disabled the gene completely. This technique is called RNAi.

Some day in the not too distant future (2010-2020 is supposed to be the Biotech-Era), we will see humans having genetic modifications routinely, and we are likely to benefit greatly from them.

For another great example of how a few small genetic modifications can have a profound effect, read my post about super-regenerative mice.

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