Eternal life was once the domain of magicians and alchemists, but nowadays serious scientists are also searching for ways to prevent the end of human life, or at least a later time.
This research led a group of biologists at the University of California to a genus of Pacific redfish. Among these red fish, some species die when they are around 11 years old, while others reach the respectable age of 200 years. Rohit Kollura and his colleagues wanted to know: Where do the genetic differences lie?
Scientists have worked meticulously: they have sequenced the complete DNA of at least 88 species of red fish, both long- and short-lived. The results of this extensive work appeared in the scientific journal on Thursday Sciences.
Three genetic secrets
Long-lived redfish appear to have at least three genetic secrets. For example, they have certain genes that help repair DNA when it becomes faulty.
During evolution, they have also been more cautious about which genes play a role in sensitivity to nutrients. These genes have not changed over the centuries in long-lived species, indicating that they are of great benefit to these fish. It is especially useful in a life of scarcity. Genes can encourage fish to pay attention to their cells and tissues. This in turn means they stay alive longer.
Finally, centenarians among fish have access to greater supplies of butyrophilins: a gene family that works to combat unnecessary inflammation that can occur in old age. In total, the researchers found 137 genes associated with human lifespan.
According to a comment in Sciences People can benefit from these ideas. “Humans live longer than most vertebrates, but long-lived rockfish may provide humans with strategies for improvement,” J. Yuyang Lu and two colleagues from the University of Rochester (USA).
Jan Hoeijmakers, professor of molecular genetics at the Erasmus MCV Center in Rotterdam and the Princess Máxima Center in Utrecht, is more cautious. “You have to remember that only associations have been found between certain genes and life span, not causal links,” he says.
Slow down aging
In Hoeijmakers’ view, the new study adds to the growing pile of evidence that DNA repair plays an important role in slowing aging. “When we were the first to publish this, after doing research on mice, we were ridiculed,” he recalls. “But now this idea is generally accepted.”
However, Hoeijmakers had never heard of the role of butyrophilin. Maybe this is a new starting point if you want to fight aging. Although more research needs to be done first, also on other animals.
What is certain is that the moment when humans will try to control their aging is approaching. “Within twenty to thirty years, we will be able to influence aging,” Hoeijmakers predicts. This study may be a small step on this long road towards eternal life.
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