Aging and Genes 3
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Aging and Genes 3

Most aging research takes place on a nematode worm. But how relevant are these findings to human beings? This article dicusses that question and details some aging research in human beings.

From Worm to Man

The discovery of several ‘longevity genes’ and physiological systems that affect aging happened in a small nematode worm. Does this have any effect on us, human beings? Actually is has. Such systems are central systems in the metabolism, which are often largely preserved throughout evolutionary changes. Research has already shown that the closest relatives of the genes that are responsible for the aging process in nematodes, have a similar role in other animals, such as fruit flies and mice., which brings us a lot closer to human beings. So, it seems that these relatively simple nematodes can teach us a lot about our own aging process.

This, of course, is great news, as working with small worms is easier than working with people. For one, the genome of C. elegans has been known since 1998 and current techniques allow scientists to manipulate it basically at will. In, mice, for example, aging research can already take several years, where the worms grow old in just a few weeks time. The research can advance much faster by working on these nematode model organisms.

Human Research

In humans, tampering with the genome is not an option, and the aging research takes another route. By focusing on people who’ve reached an advanced age in relative good health, who also have old and healthy siblings, researchers can start to look for genes common to these old but healthy people. Often their children are also considered in the research, to see whether or not they’re healthier than the average in their age group.

At first, the target of the investigations were so-called ‘candidate genes’, genes that were already known from animal models for their relevance in the aging process. For example, the genes that provide the link between food availability and life expectancy in mice and nematodes, often play a role in human beings, albeit rather in a protective fashion.

Besides this, genome scans were used to identify possible other genes involved in aging. One gene that has been discovered this way, is the ApoE gene, which codes for apolipoprotein E, a protein that plays a part in the fat metabolism and inflammation reactions. People with the ‘bad’ version of this gene have 30% less chance of turning 90 years old. Few other genes have been discovered, but to find the influence of genes with a smaller effect, larger population research is required, which is currently being performed by several laboratories.

References

  • Jacobsen, R.; Martinussen, T.; Christiansen, L.; Jeune, B.; Andersen-Ranberg, K.; Vaupel, J.W. & Christensen, K. (2010). Increased effect of the ApoE gene on survival at advanced age in healthy and long-lived Danes: two nationwide cohort studies. Aging Cell. 9(6), pp. 1004 – 1009.
  • The C. elegans Sequencing Consortium. (1998). Genome Sequence of the Nematode C. elegans: A Platform for Investigating Biology. Science. 282(5396), pp. 2012 – 2018.

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Comments (2)

Good work on the series.

excellent research thank you

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