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Are Worms the Key to Eternal Youth?

Dec 17 2015 Comments 0

Forget the mythical fountain of youth. According to scientists, worms could be the key to staying younger for longer. New tests on roundworms have shown that an antidepressant drug called mianserin can prolong life by up to 30%. However, the longevity only extends to young adulthood, not later life stages.

“Based on their gene expression pattern, 10 day old worms looked seven days younger,” explains Michael Petrascheck, lead scientists at the Scripps Research Institute.

Youthful worms, youthful humans?

For humans, this could be the key to staying younger, for longer. The unique discovery came after scientists fed the drug to laboratory worms. Results indicated that worms consuming mianserin enjoyed a young adulthood phase that was more than 30% longer than their non-drugged counterparts. It took thousands of roundworms to confirm the effects, with scientists meticulously analysing the gene activity throughout the experiment. On a normal diet, the worms experienced increasingly disorganised genes as they aged. Petrascheck refers to this demise in genetic orchestration as “transcriptional drift. When they tested worms with a mianserin diet, they found that transcriptional drift was supressed, thus preventing the ageing process.

“What happens is the period of young adulthood is made longer, whilst all the rest that comes later stays the same,” says Petrascheck. “The life extension comes only from increasing the young period of life, and then when this period is over, the compound doesn’t do anything anymore.”

The challenges of differing genetic make-ups

While the youth-bringing compound has been effective in lengthening the youthful phases of roundworms, scientists maintain that the concept doesn’t necessarily apply to humans.

Petrascheck stresses, “We don’t want people to get the impression they can take the drug we used in our study to extend their own teens or early twenties.”

As humans and roundworms are extremely different organisms, the results would not necessarily be the same. “Even if the molecule does the same thing in humans there may be side effects we don’t see because the tissue just doesn’t exist in worms. The worms only have 1000 cells and we have 100 trillion. There is a lot that works differently,” he adds.

Genetic research in modern labs

Want to know more about how genes play a key role in modern science labs? ‘Chromatrap®: A fast, Reliable High-Throughput ChIP-seq Assay for Genome-Wide Protein-DNA Analysis’ delves into an ultra-advance technique used to generate genome-wide profiling of DNA-binding proteins and histone modifications.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons. Credits: Ryan Somma


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