Could A Worm Hold the Key to Living Longer?

Evidence shows a gene found in a worm could slow down the aging process.

ByABC News
November 17, 2011, 4:36 AM

Nov. 17, 2011 — -- Do you dream of looking like your 30-year-old self when you hit 60?

Well, the secrets to the fountain of youth may be bubbling up in a nearby lab -- and you have a roundworm to thank for it.

By studying the critter -- about the size of a comma -- biochemist Cynthia Kenyon and her team have pinpointed a combination of rare genes that seem to counter the effects of aging.

Kenyon, the director of the Hillblom Center for the Biology of Aging, presented her research on prolonging youth in Edinburgh, Scotland at TEDGlobal 2011.

Watch Cynthia Keyon's Full TED Talk

Roundworms are elderly and wrinkled at 10 days and by the time they reach two weeks, they're dead. Kenyon found that by masking the DNA's daf-2 gene, her team could extend the roundworms' lives sixfold.

The secret: A mutation to the daf-2 gene slowed down the aging process. A mutated worm took two days to age as much as a normal worm.

"You have something you never thought was possible," Kenyon told ABC News. "These worms should be dead, a long time ago. ... But they're not dead. They're moving. They're young."

In her lab, one roundworm that was 90 in human years looked and acted like a 30-year-old.

"It is amazing, and this I think is so important," Kenyon said. "This says more than you can ever say with words."

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"If you look in nature, you see that different kinds of animals can have really different life spans," she said during her TED presentation. "There are some tortoises that are called blandings turtles. They've been found to be 70 years old, and when you look at these 70-year-old turtles, you can't tell the difference just by looking between those turtles and 20-year-old turtles."

Kenyon said that the daf-2 gene might also affect human lifespan. Though she said more research needed to be done, one study showed that people who lived to 100 were more likely than others to carry mutations in the gene.

Kenyon said it was possible that youth-boosting drugs could be 15 years away.

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