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As our bodies get older, the signs of age become all too visible, until one day it's game over. It used to be thought that there were ageing genes that actually contributed to this process. That view is no longer widely held. And whilst there probably won't be a single gene or set of genes that per se will lead to a long life, there is increasing evidence that some could be manipulated to extend lifespans.
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Most of the research in this field comes from animal models. Longevity genes have been discovered in organisms other than humans and have been shown to add extra days, weeks and months on planet Earth. Lucky organisms, but not so us yet as the research doesn't extend that far. Though surely that is only a matter of time?
This gene has been shown to extend lifespans in fruit flies, yeasts and roundworms. For example, adding an extra Sir2 gene to a yeast cell has been shown to increase its lifespan by 20-30%. Sir2 is present in all organisms.
A gene that regulates cell growth in roundworms. This is also considered a longevity gene because the loss of it in C.elegans actually slows the aging process.
Mutations in the daf-2 gene have been shown to increase the lifespan of C. elegans.
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Even More Longevity Genes
There are plenty of other genes that have also been shown to increase lifespans. These include pit-1, amp-1 and clk-1. In March 2008 scientists led by a team at the University of Washington published details of 25 longevity genes, or at least genes that regulate lifespans in the single-celled budding yeast and C. elegans. 15 of those genes are known to be present in humans.
Aging is undoubtedly a complex process and there will be many biological processes that contribute to our wear and tear. Some of these are known, such as accumulation of DNA mutations and damage, shortening of telomeres on chromosomes, the damage done by free radicals and cell death.
Understanding each of these processes and the roles that genes play may provide us with the weapons we need to extend our own lifespans. They may limit the amount of intra and extra cellular age-related damage to our bodies and so keep us around long enough to put a few extra candles on the birthday cake. Of course the answers are not that simplistic, but having seen real results in small laboratory organisms it encourages many to look at how these genes behave in larger organisms such as ourselves.
Longevity genes won't give us the answers straight away, so you might still want to look for an elixir-of-life (though my money's on the genes), but in any case the research will help to combat many potentially dangerous diseases, and that in itself is incredible and will obviously increase lifespans for some.