Scientists look to "turn off" aging genes
One of the few proven ways to combat aging is calorie restriction, which has been shown to prolong the lifespan in yeast, worms, flies, monkeys, and in some cases, humans. But, researchers at Tel Aviv University have developed a computer algorithm that they say can predict which genes can be “turned off” for the same anti-aging effect.
The study, published in Nature Communications, is part of a growing field called genome-scale metabolic modeling (GSMMs). It works by using mathematical equations and computers to describe the metabolism of living cells. Once built, the models serve as a digital laboratory, which turns labor-intensive tests into the click of a mouse. This particular algorithm can take information about any two metabolic states and predict the environment or genetic changes necessary to go from one state to the other.
Gene expression can be turned off to prevent them from being expressed in a cell. For this study, researchers used the custom-designed algorithm to predict genes that can turned off to make the gene expression of old yeast to look like that of young yeast. Yeast is used because much of its DNA is preserved in humans.
Results showed two new yeast genes, GRE3 and ADH2, can be turned off in non-digital yeast to extend the lifespan. They also found that turning off these genes creates oxidative stress, which could be similar to that produced by calorie restriction.
The next step is to test whether turning off these genes will prolong the lifespan of genetically engineered mice. The research suggests that in the future, drugs could be developed that can target genes in humans and help extend lifespans.