A recent revolution in aging research has led to the discovery that the activity of single genes can control the rate at which we age. The Rollins Lab is building on this revolution by studying how life-extending interventions like dietary restriction regulate gene expression to help protect our cells and tissues from declining with age. They use the roundworm, C. elegans, as a model organism to study human aging, as roundworms share many of their genes with us and because their short lifespans allow scientists to rapidly test for interventions that extend longevity.
Gene expression is regulated on multiple levels: by transcription rates of DNA into mRNA copies, by recruitment of mRNA to the ribosome to be translated into proteins and by the degradation rates of the mRNA or protein products. The Rollins Lab has previously shown that when C. elegans are treated with dietary restriction, many longevity genes are regulated exclusively on the level of translation. Protein translation is made possible by the ribosome, an intricate molecular machine comprised of multiple proteins. Dr. Rollins's current work explores how regulation of longevity genes occurs under dietary restriction by investigating how the protein composition of the ribosome determines which mRNAs are selected for translation and which are not.