In Worms, a New Theory on Aging

By Eliza Strickland | July 25, 2008 9:50 am

nemotodes worms C. elegansA genetic study of worms has challenged the prevailing theory of aging, which holds that organisms eventually break down and die as a result of wear-and tear on their bodies. Researchers have found that certain genes in the worms are genetically programmed to stop functioning as the worm ages; while there’s no guarantee that a similar process takes place in humans, the results nevertheless give hope that science eventually may find a way to stop or reverse the aging process [HealthDay News].

Researchers have thought that aging is due to damage inflicted on our cellular DNA (genetic material) by factors such as smoking, disease, the sun’s ultraviolet rays and chemically reactive molecules called free radicals, which are produced when our cells make energy. [This study] suggests instead that a combination of factors is at play—that in addition to [environmental factors], there are also certain genes that may carry instructions to start the aging process [Scientific American].

In the study, which was published in the journal Cell [subscription required], researchers looked at genes that behaved differently in young and old worms. They found 1254 genes that had different expression levels between the two groups. Almost all of these genes were developmental genes, necessary for proper intestinal and skin development in young worms [The Scientist]. They also found three genetic switches (called transcription factors) that controlled the expression of those developmental genes, and that turned them off in older worms.

The tiny C. elegans nematode worms typically live for only two weeks, but when researchers prevented those genetic switches from turning off the genes the worms lived for up to a week longer. Marc Tatar, from Brown University in Rhode Island said: “The message of this research is that ageing can be slowed and managed by manipulating signalling circuits within cells” [Telegraph].

Image: flickr/snickclunk

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Living World
MORE ABOUT: aging, genetics, worms
  • http://www.earthfry.com Adam

    This was mentioned in the first few chapters of William S. Burroughs’ book Junky. It correlated the theory between why long term Heroin addicts look really young and scientists halting the age of worms by keeping their body in a state of flux. That was in the 50’s …

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

80beats

80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.
ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »