Mankind yearns to stay young and healthy, and, if possible, to never die. But, death is a reality we cannot deny. On the other hand, science is forever trying to keep us alive as long as it can. While every soul shall taste death, that time might perhaps be delayed. Researchers from the Center for Plant Aging Research in cooperation with the Institute for Basic Science (IBS) in Korea have attempted to slow the ageing process, and they have managed to double the lifespan of cells.
Our body cells go through a well-regulated cycle: they grow rapidly until they start degenerating as the repair process is made to stop. This cycle still hides away precious secrets from us. The IBS team has, fortunately, managed to shed light on some of how the lifespan of a cell is controlled.
The scientists worked on the cells of a roundworm called Caenorhabditis elegans. The latter shares some cellular characteristics with humans. A mutated form of the worm was used. The scientists restricted a gene called daf-2 which plays a role in the rate of ageing, reproductive development, resistance to oxidative stress, thermotolerance, resistance to hypoxia, and resistance to bacterial pathogens. The daf-2 gene was modified; the mutants had increased resistance against diverse stresses, including heat stress, pathogenic bacteria, and oxidative stress. Furthermore, they had a doubled lifespan as opposed to the wild Caenorhabditis elegans roundworms.
The RNA helicases – enzymes that regulate the function of RNA – of the worm were also analysed. The researchers wanted to examine the enzymes in relation to the process of ageing. When the helicase HEL-1 was analysed, it was found that longevity was promoted when it was inhibited.
The HEL-1 is believed to act as a transcription regulator controlling the way cells convert DNA to RNA.
“In contrast to the expectation that RNA helicases have general housekeeping roles in RNA metabolism, our findings reveal that the RNA helicase HEL-1 has specific roles in a specific longevity pathway,” writes the team.
The technique of altering RNA helicases to extend life in humans seems to be a mouth-watering prospect. The good news is the HEL-1 in humans can also be manipulated in similar ways. More evidence needs to be generated, though, to confirm whether the same mechanism is behind cellular ageing regulation in humans.