Longevity gene in fruit flies hints at coming genetic discoveries to slow aging
In the last few centuries, medical advances have greatly lengthened lifespans. Among other causes, a central driver has been improved care at the beginning of life, when declining infant mortality rates have boosted average life expectancy at birth.
Now, as more people live into their eighties, nineties, and beyond, researchers are focusing on the end of life. And with the increasing incidence of age-related diseases, like Alzheimer’s and cancer, it’s not just prolonging life, but prolonging health too. Some believe the answer to a long, healthy life lies hidden in our genes.
In a recent study, researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), say that activating a gene, AMPK, in fruit flies’ intestines was found to add 30% to their average lifespans, up to eight weeks from the typical six weeks. Beyond simply boosting lifespans, the flies stayed healthier too.
The research found that activating the gene increased the rate of a cellular process called autophagy, in which cells break down damaged cellular components and proteins that can negatively affect cell health. This cellular junk tends to accumulate as we age.
In addition, activating the gene in one organ appeared to have wider ranging effects. We have shown that when we activate the gene in the intestine or the nervous system, we see the aging process is slowed beyond the organ system in which the gene is activated,” said David Walker, UCLA associate professor of integrative biology and physiology and senior author of the research.