British scientists studied the genetics of aging worms said laboratory experiments showed that a specific gene is strongly associated with the duration of life, immunity and disease resistance.
Since the gene called DAF-16 in the worms, can be found also in animals and humans, the results may offer new opportunities to alter the aging, immunity and resistance in humans, scientists said.
“We wanted to discover how the normal aging process is governed by genes and what effects do these genes in other traits such as immunity,” said Robin May, University of Birmingham, who led the study.
Populations worldwide are aging at an amazing rate, which represents major challenges to social security systems and health. A study by Danish scientists last year showed that half of babies born in developed countries today will live to 100 years.
Science is trying to figure out how to get older people to develop drugs that help maintain health while extending the average life.
“What we found is that things like resistance and aging tend to go hand in hand,” May said in an interview.
His team compared the longevity, stress resistance and immunity of four related species of earthworms. We also analyzed the differences in the activity of DAF-16 gene and found that it was quite dissimilar in different species.
Above all, the differences in the DAF-16 corresponded to differences in these respects, with the highest levels of gene activity related to a longer life, greater strength and better immunity to infections.
May said the DAF-16 was active in most cells of the body and was very similar to a group of human genes known as FOXO, that scientists have a role in the process of aging.
“The fact that subtle changes in DAF-16 gene in different species have an impact on aging and health is very interesting, and could explain how these differences in the duration of life and other related features have emerged during evolution, “said May.
The study was published in the journal of the Public Library of Science (PLoS) One
In a commentary on the study, Professor Douglas Kell, the Research Council Biotechnology and Biological Sciences (BBSRC for its acronym in English), which funded the work said the findings could help scientists to understand some of the mechanisms determine how humans age.
“It is very important to develop a good understanding of the aging process to assess what happens to the physiology of an adult when you start to deteriorate or are experiencing difficulties in their daily tasks, like remembering things or move,” he wrote.