SAN DIEGO — A potential “fountain of youth” pill may be on the horizon after scientists successfully slowed aging in yeast cells. Researchers in California increased the longevity of the single-celled organisms by utilizing a biosynthetic “clock” to rewire the circuit controlling normal deterioration. This offers hope for preventing age-related human illnesses.
“Our results establish a connection between gene network architecture and cellular longevity that could lead to rationally-designed gene circuits to slow aging,” explains Professor Nan Hao, the study’s senior author from UC San Diego.
Humans possess gene regulatory circuits responsible for aging, similar to those found in fungi. The team used microfluidics and time-lapse microscopy to track the aging processes across the yeast’s lifespan. Cells exposed to the oscillator device survived almost twice as long as the normal controls.
“Our oscillator cells live longer than any of the longest-lived strains previously identified by unbiased genetic screens. Our work represents a proof-of-concept example, demonstrating the successful application of synthetic biology to reprogram the cellular aging process. It may lay the foundation for designing synthetic gene circuits to effectively promote longevity in more complex organisms,” Prof. Hao adds in a media release.
Scroll down to read about 8 simple habits that unlock your personal fountain of youth
Why is yeast comparable to people?
Yeast and humans share similar genes, despite diverging from a common ancestor approximately one billion years ago. Hao compared these gene circuits to home electric circuits that control devices such as appliances and automobiles.
The researchers engineered a negative feedback loop to stall aging, transforming its normal function as a toggle switch. This created a clock-like device, called a gene oscillator, which drives the cell to periodically switch between two detrimental “aged” states, avoiding prolonged commitment to either and thus slowing degeneration. Using computer simulations, the team designed and built the circuit within the cell.
“This is the first time computationally guided synthetic biology and engineering principles were used to rationally redesign gene circuits and reprogram the aging process to effectively promote longevity,” the study author notes.
The scientists previously discovered that cells follow one of two paths: one leads to healthy aging, while the other results in rapid decline as cellular machinery falters and produces broken proteins. They identified the molecular “switchboard” that determines the cells’ fate and used this information to create a computer model for cellular aging. The researchers found DNA tweaks that could make yeast cells live about twice as long, extending the organism’s lifespan.
Unlike numerous chemical and genetic attempts to force cells into artificial states of “youth,” this new research suggests that slowing the aging clock is possible by actively preventing cells from committing to a predestined path of decline and death. The clock-like gene oscillators, described in the journal Science, could be a universal system for achieving this goal.
What exactly is yeast?
Yeast is a type of single-celled microorganism belonging to the fungi kingdom. It is classified under the genus Saccharomyces, with the most common species being Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Yeast is widely used in various industries, including food and beverage production, as well as scientific research.
In food and beverage production, yeast plays a crucial role in the fermentation process, converting sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide. This process is essential for making bread, beer, and wine. Yeast helps bread dough rise by producing carbon dioxide, which gets trapped in the dough, causing it to expand. In beer and wine production, yeast ferments the sugars, producing alcohol and various flavors.
In scientific research, yeast is used as a model organism because of its simple cellular structure, rapid growth rate, and ease of genetic manipulation. Yeast shares many similarities with human cells, making it an invaluable tool for studying genetics, molecular biology, and cellular processes related to human health and disease.
These 8 simple habits can unlock your personal ‘fountain of youth’
While researchers work on slowing the aging process through science, a recent study finds sticking to eight simple, heart-healthy habits can help people reach a ripe old age as well. Dubbed “Life’s Essential 8” (LE8), a team working with the American Heart Association says they hold the key to a modern-day “fountain of youth.”
The main healthy tips include eating healthily, not smoking, and getting plenty of exercise and sleep. The others are maintaining a normal weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose levels.
“Our study looked at the association of Life’s Essential 8 and life expectancy free of major chronic disease in adults in the United Kingdom,” says lead author Xuan Wang, M.D., Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow and biostatistician in the department of epidemiology at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, in a media release.
“We categorized Life’s Essential 8 scores according to the American Heart Association’s recommendations, with scores of less than 50 out of 100 being poor cardiovascular health, 50 to less than 80 being intermediate, and 80 and above being ideal,” Dr. Wang says.
Researchers define scores of 80 and above as “high cardiovascular health.” These individuals lived substantially longer than others in the study. Men and women at age 50 had an average 5.2 years and 6.3 years of increased total life expectancy, respectively, in comparison to their peers in the “poor” category. They also lived longer without chronic disease.
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South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.