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Is a worm the key to healthy aging?
Unfortunately, the increasing life expectancy in recent decades has not had the effect that the health and quality of life of people in old age have improved to the same extent. That is why researchers are looking for ways to improve the quality of life in old age. A newly discovered gene in worms could now provide answers.
In the current study by the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST), a gene has now been identified in a worm that is related to the healthy aging of the roundworm C. Elegans. The results of the study were published in the English-language journal "G3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics".
Movement in old age is an indicator of health
A gene called elpc-2 was identified in the roundworm C. elegans, which plays an important role in maintaining health as the worm ages. Worms with defects in this gene show movement disorders in old age. Movement in older age is in turn an indicator of the health of people and worms. This gene is preserved in humans, the researchers report. “When we get older, some people retain full mobility, while others don't, and we want to understand the genetic reasons for this,” explains study author Dr. Kazuto Kawamura from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in a press release.
C. elegans is well suited for studying aging
This gene is one of many genes that play an important role in healthy aging. A new experimental approach allows hundreds of worms to be examined simultaneously, which could be useful for other research in the future. The elpc-2 gene is expressed throughout the body by C. elegans. It plays an important role in mobility as the worms get older. C. elegans is a useful model for studying aging because the worms have a short lifespan and are easy to manipulate in the laboratory. The researchers inserted random mutations into the genome of these worms. By examining the progeny of the mutant worms, it was possible to analyze which mutations affected health.
How was the experiment set up?
The researchers examined whether the organisms were able to maintain their ability to move to a food source as they grew older. The worms were positioned in the middle of a bowl, with the food on the edge of the bowl. The worms naturally move towards food unless their movement is impaired. All worms that did not reach the feed on the first day were removed from the experiment. The authors wanted to find out how the ability of movement decreases with age. The remaining worms were retested as they grew older using the same approach. In this later test, several worms with movement disorders were identified. These were then sequenced and their DNA compared to that of a normal worm to locate the mutations and identify the genes responsible.
What is the elongator complex?
Creating hundreds of random mutations was not very difficult for the researchers. It was more problematic to find out which mutation is responsible for the influence on the ability to move. With the new approach, in which worms crawl to a food source at the edge of the bowl, the mobility of hundreds of worms can be tested at the same time, the authors explain. In this way, the researchers identified the elpc-2 gene and its role in worm health. The gene encodes part of the so-called elongator complex, which has many important functions, including controlling the correct folding of proteins. In turn, some of these proteins can play a role in locomotion. Worms with a damaged elpc-2 gene lacked a functioning elongator complex, which explains why the movement was impaired. To confirm this, the researchers injected a copy of the gene into these worms and the movement was restored.
Further research will take place in Germany
Interestingly, other genes were also identified that also had a strong impact on health, but not on animal lifespan, the authors report. In other words, the underlying mutations didn't really affect how long a worm lived, but how it moved. This shows that although health and lifespan overlap, the genetic basis is different, the researchers explain. In the future, study author Kawamura would like to research other genes that are important for healthy aging. "Once we have a more complete picture of the genes involved, we can start manipulating them to improve health, first in C. elegans and maybe someday in humans," the author reports. Kawamura will now continue his work on C. elegans at the renowned Max Planck Institute for the Biology of Aging in Germany. (as)
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Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
- Kazuto Kawamura, Ichiro N. Maruyama: Forward Genetic Screen for Caenorhabditis elegans Mutants with a Shortened Locomotor Healthspan, in G3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics (query: 14.07.2019), G3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics
- New Gene Linked to Healthy Aging in Worms, Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (query: July 14, 2019), OIST