Believe it to not, little worms (C.elegans) are an useful tool for researchers studying aging. Specially, the genetics of aging. A recently released article in Cell Reports 1 shows that gene modification in two specific cellular pathways drives 500% life extension in worms.
Worms are the ideal research subject for aging and genetics because they are genetic clones with a short life -from our point of view- and a known number of genes amenable to genetic modifications. The researchers in this study altered the gene expression of a couple of genes in two cellular pathways known to govern aging.
The first is the IIS or insulin signalling pathway which responds to environmental cues. Altering it leads to a 100% increase in life span in worms. The second, the TOR pathway is an ancient signalling pathway related to nutrient availability. Knocking it out produces a 30% life span extension.
ISS and TOR are stress-response signalling pathways in the mitochondria. Mitochondria constitute the cell’s energy machinery, and it has long been believed that problems in mitochondria function could accelerate aging.
What happens when both are mutated?
In this case, the sum does produce a synergistic result for it doesn’t jut increase the worm’s lifespan in 130% but this gene modification drives 500% life extension in worms!!
Even though the exact mechanism through which this incredible life extension comes about is unknown, the research’s authors think it might be that these changes in the function of the IIS and TOR pathways lead to a maintenance phenotype instead of a growing one, which requires less energy and therefore allows for longer survival.
Could gene modification also drive a 500% life extension in humans?
Even though both the IIS and the TOR pathway are conserved in humans, it is highly unlikely that we would achieve such a high lifespan extension by tweaking genes in these molecular pathways. After all, we are a bit more complex than a little worm.
But what it might help is to a better and healthier aging, which should actually be our main goal, seeing as the personal and monetary cost of aging is growing every year.