The news: Researchers at UCLA claim to have found the fountain of youth — for fruit flies, at least.
The researchers identified and activated a gene called AMPK, which can slow down the aging process. By increasing the activity of AMPK genes in the bug's intestines, the scientists were able to increase the flies' lifespan from six weeks to eight weeks, a full one-third longer than average.
While it's too early to say we've discovered a key to immortality, the findings could provide a roadmap for scientists seeking to understand and slow down our own aging process. AMPK also exists in humans, but it usually activates at lower levels. Future research could have important implications for treating or even staving off some of our most widespread ailments.
About the new findings: The study, published last week in Cell Reports, was spearheaded by David Walker, an associate professor of integrative biology and physiology and Matthew Ulgherait, who carried out the research in Walker's lab.
AMPK is an energy sensor, normally activated when energy levels are low. The gene sets off the autophagy process, which protects the cell from deterioration and future maladies by jettisoning damaged or old parts. Walker and Ulgherait's research suggests that activating AMPK in a "more accessible" organ, like the human intestine, could slow the aging process throughout the entire body.
"We have shown that when we activate the gene in the intestine or the nervous system, we see the aging process is slowed beyond the organ system in which the gene is activated," Walker said in a release. "Instead of studying the diseases of aging — Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, cancer, stroke, cardiovascular disease, diabetes — one by one, we believe it may be possible to intervene in the aging process and delay the onset of many of these diseases."
What does this all mean? Slowing down the aging process isn't just about vanity. "The ultimate aim of our research is to promote healthy aging in people," said Walker. Activating a specific gene in one organ system to delay the onset of chronic or terminal diseases would be revolutionary in terms of treatment.
The fountain of youth may no longer just be a myth. Who knew it was in the gut this whole time?
h/t Medical Xpress