Eötvös Loránd University scientists Dr. Ádám Sturm and Dr. Tibor Vellai have made a new breakthrough in figuring out why we age.
Their research focused on something called “transposable elements” (TEs) in our DNA. Think of TEs as movable parts in our genetic instruction manual.
When these parts move around too much, they can mess up the instructions and might be one reason why we get older, according to SciTechDaily.
The researchers pinpointed a special way, known as the Piwi-piRNA pathway, that manages these TEs. They observed this process in cells that don’t grow old, such as cancer stem cells and the Turritopsis dohrnii, also called the “immortal jellyfish.”
When they boosted this pathway in a worm called Caenorhabditis elegans, the worm had a much longer life.
Experimental proof of old theories on extending human life
In the previous two studies from 2015 and 2017, Sturm and Vellai suggested a strong connection between the Piwi-piRNA system and the interesting idea of biological immortality.
Now, in their latest work published in Nature Communications, they’ve provided experimental evidence. Their study demonstrated that managing the activity of TEs can genuinely lengthen lifespan, proving that these moving DNA parts are crucial in the aging process.
In a more detailed explanation, the scientists applied methods to “downregulate” or reduce the activity of TEs. When they applied this to certain TEs in worms, the worms displayed indications of aging at a slower pace.
Furthermore, when they controlled multiple TEs at the same time, the positive effects on lifespan stacked up, as reported by SciTechDaily.
Paving the way for an accurate biological clock
“In our lifespan assays, by merely downregulating TEs or somatically overexpressing the Piwi-piRNA pathway elements, we observed a statistically significant lifespan advantage,” Sturm explained. “This opens the door to a myriad of potential applications in the world of medicine and biology.”
Furthermore, the team detected changes in the DNA of these worms as they matured, specifically in the TEs. These changes, called DNA N6-adenine methylation, were observed going up as the specimen aged, affecting TE activity.
Vellai highlighted the potential impact of this finding by stating, “This epigenetic modification may pave the way for a method to determine age from DNA, providing an accurate biological clock.”
By gaining a deeper understanding of these movable DNA parts and the systems that manage them, scientists could be making progress toward creating methods to extend life and enhance health during our later years, as reported by SciTechDaily.