Age is just a number
RUNNER UP - SANDS COX CHARITY ESSAY PRIZE 2019
As we grow older, our fear of ageing increases. With a vast range of products, from snail facials to anti-ageing creams, there seems to be some desperate effort to either prevent or slow down the appearance of age. Although the development of wrinkles is inevitable, research has highlighted a possibility to increase lifespan, merely by deleting or removing specific genes responsible for this process.
A comprehensive study, conducted by scientists at the Buck Institute for Research on Ageing and the University of Washington has identified that when 238 specific genes were eliminated, the replicative lifespan of S. Cerevisiae yeast cells increased hugely. This study was carried out over ten years. The two assemblies started the process of examining 4,698 yeast strands, each with a single gene deletion. In order to conclude which strains provided increased lifespan, yeast cells were counted, and the number of daughter cells produced by the mother before the organism stopped dividing was also recorded. A fine needle was attached to the microscope and used to pull away the daughter cells from the mother each time it divided, and the number of times division occurred was also counted.
The study concluded, that the deletion of a gene called LOS1 produced incredibly impressive results, increasing lifespan by just over 60%. This gene aids to relocate tRNA, which attracts amino acids to ribosomes, thus building proteins. The LOS1 gene is influenced by mTOR, a protein known to promote protein synthesis and healthy growth. However, although its effects are beneficial at an early age, the gene is known to have a negative effect in mammals, particularly as they grow older. In the investigation of S. Cerevisiae yeast, there is a direct correlation with the removal of certain genes, and the yeast’s ability to divide, thus its life span. In addition to this, the University of Southern California discovered that a five-day diet, which fundamentally replicates fasting can also reduce the rate of ageing, boosts the immune system and decreases the risk of heart diseases considerably. Researchers have come to believe that diet usually causes a disruption in hormone level or even removal of a hormone that encourages growth. As a result of this, the body is ‘manipulated into ageing more slowly.
Similarly, a research group from Harvard, investigated the effect of ageing in mice. They focused greatly on telomere shortening, a process linked to the ageing of mammals. With each division of a cell, the telomeres are shortened, until eventually they no longer work resulting in cell death. This process has been directly correlated with ageing. Genetically engineered mice were bred that lacked the enzyme, telomerase, which prevents the telomere shortening. In the absence of the enzyme, the mice were observed as ageing prematurely and many suffered from smaller brain size. Nevertheless, when the mice were later given injections to reactivate the enzyme, the majority of damaged tissue was repaired, and many signs of ageing were reversed. This research could possibly be used in the anti-ageing of humans, although this will obviously contain more difficulties. The telomerase enzyme is turned off in adult humans, which is believed to be for evolutionary purposes, which controls the growth of cells, but dramatically increases the risk of cancer. Lynne Cox, a biochemist at Oxford University stated that the study was "extremely important" as it "provides proof of principle that short-term treatment to restore telomerase in adults already showing age-related tissue degeneration can rejuvenate aged tissues and restore physiological function."
If the following research were to ever lead to conclusive evidence, and perhaps even the development of certain age reversal therapies, age-related illnesses will most likely decrease, thus enhancing our quality of life. Although the concept of eternal life still remains an idea of science fiction, there is a slim potential for the introduction of a form of anti-ageing medication.
Phys.org. (2019). Comprehensive study finds 238 genes that affect aging in yeast cells. [online] Available at: https://phys.org/news/2015-10-comprehensive-genes-affect-aging-yeast.html [Accessed 30 Nov. 2019].
Hemann, M., Strong, M., Hao, L. and Greider, C. (2001). The Shortest Telomere, Not Average Telomere Length, Is Critical for Cell Viability and Chromosome Stability. Cell, 107(1), pp.67-77.