Scientists turn off ageing process in worms

Discovery could lead to treatments that enable people to remain healthy and productive into old age

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The Independent Online

Researchers have discovered how to turn off genes behind the ageing process in worms, according to a report.

Humans have the same “genetic switch”, the scientists said, expressing the hope that the discovery could lead to treatments that enable people to remain healthy and productive into old age.

“Wouldn’t it be better for society if people could be healthy and productive for a longer period during their lifetime?” Professor Richard Morimoto, of Northwestern University in the Illinois, who led the study, said, according to The Daily Telegraph.

“I am very interested in keeping the quality control systems optimal as long as we can, and now we have a target.

“Our findings suggest there should be a way to turn this genetic switch back on and protect our ageing cells by increasing their ability to resist stress.”

The researchers found that a woman called C elegans began to get old just eight hours after becoming an adult, following a genetic signal, they reported in the journal Cell.

“C elegans has told us that ageing is not a continuum of various events, which a lot of people thought it was,” Professor Morimoto said.

“It was unexpected that a genetic switch is literally thrown eight hours into adulthood, leading to the simultaneous repression of the heat-shock response and other cell stress responses.”

The team was able to stop the genetic switch being turned on and found this essentially halted the ageing process.

“This was fascinating to see,” Professor Morimoto said. “We had, in a sense, a super stress-resistant animal that is robust against all kinds of cellular stress and protein damage. This genetic switch gives us a target for future research.”