Yeast DNA may hold the key to human ageing

A gene that yeast and humans have in common may hold the secret to aging, scientists have discovered. They said their "pleasantly shocking" finding could show that getting old starts in some of the most basic processes of cells.

Leonard Guarente, David Sinclair and colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States, studied a gene in yeast, which corresponds exactly to a gene in people. Mutations in the human gene cause Werner's syndrome, a disease whose symptoms mimic those of premature aging, including development of cataracts, osteoporosis and wrinkling. Mr Guarente said his team set out to find whether the same gene caused yeast to age.

"The reason we did the experiment was to see if by chance we would get a similar effect, which we did." he said. "It raises the possibility that there is a common mechanism underlying aging." he added. "Aging might lie at the cellular level."

In aging, damage accumulates as cells divide over and over again, making occasional mistakes. The gene for this protein could be a key one damaged, causing the aging effect.

"I think the big thing is a that there is a possible universal mechanism." Guarente said. "We were really pleasantly shocked," adding that Yeast is surprisingly similar to humans genetically.