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30 genes out of 40,000 extend lifespan.

Stashed in: Science!, Aging, CRISPR

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A future study will determine if the same mechanism works for humans.

After combing through 40,000 genes from three different organisms, scientists have identified 30 that have a big effect on aging and lifespan. Influence only one of the 30 genes and the animals stay healthier and live longer.

Although they are found in different organisms, these so-called orthologous genes are closely related to each other—and they are all found in humans, too.

In order to detect these genes, the researchers examined around 40,000 genes in the nematode C. elegans, zebrafish, and mice. By screening them, the scientists wanted to determine which genes are regulated in an identical manner in all three organisms during each comparable aging stage: young, mature, and old.

As a measure of gene activity, the researchers measured the amount of messenger RNA (mRNA) molecules found in the cells of these animals. mRNA is the transcript of a gene and the blueprint of a protein. When there are many copies of an mRNA of a specific gene, it is very active; the gene is upregulated.


Fewer mRNA copies, to the contrary, are regarded as a sign of low activity, explains Michael Ristow, coordinating author of the study published in Nature Communications and a professor of energy metabolism at ETH Zurich.

Ristow and colleagues used statistical models to establish an intersection of genes that were regulated in the same manner in the worms, fish, and mice. They found only 30 genes in common that significantly influence the aging process.

ONE GENE STANDS OUTBy conducting experiments in which the mRNA of the corresponding genes were selectively blocked, the researchers pinpointed their effect on the aging process in nematodes. With a dozen of these genes, blocking them extended lifespan.

One of these genes proved to be particularly influential: the bcat-1 gene. “When we blocked the effect of this gene, it significantly extended the mean lifespan of the nematode by up to 25 percent,” says Ristow.

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