Lab worm points to new ways to extend life span

Scientists exploring ways to significantly increase our longevity have been focused on the insulin-signaling pathway. Deactivating a gene in the pathway can extend the lives of animals, probably for the same reasons that extreme low-calorie diets produce a similar effect, reports the New York Times.

The insulin-signaling pathway also activates a gene regulator-dubbed FOXO in humans-which controls a variety of gene pathways, including metabolism. Sean P. Curran and Gary Ruvkun led a team at Massachusetts General Hospital which concluded that it flips the switch on two genes in ordinary body cells (somatic cells) that are typically only active in germline cells, which produce eggs and sperm --the essential ingredients for new life. The two genes protect the cells' DNA, and in turn add to longevity.

"This ability for somatic cells to gain a stemlike character could be really important in extending life span," Dr. Ruvkun told the Times. The lesson here is that if you can find new ways to protect somatic cells, you can extend life. The Mass General team studied the lab worm C. elegans. The work now will extend to studying the gene regulator in mice and people.

- read the story in the New York Times