Researchers have managed to extend the lifespan of roundworms by five hundred percent—equivalent to a human living for four or five centuries.
An international team increased the life of a nematode worm known as C. elegans by genetically altering two “cellular pathways”—biological signalling systems which cells use to communicate with each other.
C. elegans is commonly used in ageing research because it shares many genes with humans and only lives for between three and four weeks—so scientists can easily observe how various genetic or environmental factors affect lifespan.
In fact, the two pathways which the team manipulated—known as the insulin signalling (IIS) and TOR pathways—are also found in people. This means that the latest results could have implications for the development of new anti-ageing therapies.
According to a study published in the journal Cell Reports, altering the TOR pathway on its own leads to a 30 percent increase in the lifespan of C. elegans. Meanwhile, manipulating the IIS pathway leads to a 100 percent increase in lifespan. But altering both simultaneously results in a 500 percent increase—an unexpectedly high figure.
“The synergistic extension is really wild,” Jared Rollins, co-lead author of the study from the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory in Maine, said in a statement. “The effect isn’t one plus one equals two, it’s one plus one equals five. Our findings demonstrate that nothing in nature exists in a vacuum; in order to develop the most effective anti-aging treatments we have to look at longevity networks rather than individual pathways.”
According to the authors, the latest study could help scientists develop therapies which target combined cell pathways in order to extend the healthy lifespan of humans. In fact, several drugs with this aim are currently being developed.
“Despite the discovery in C. elegans of cellular pathways that govern ageing, it hasn’t been clear how these pathways interact,” Hermann Haller, president of the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory, said in a statement. “By helping to characterize these interactions, our scientists are paving the way for much-needed therapies to increase healthy lifespan for a rapidly ageing population.”
Earlier this year, scientists announced that they had extended the lifespan of mice. According to a study published in the journal Nature, not only did the mice live longer, but they also had better health, with lower rates of cancer and obesity.
Telomeres are distinctive structures found at the ends of our chromosomes. They consist of the same short DNA sequence repeated over and over again.