Sunday, April 1, 2012

Protein evolution allows for longer life

Not all animals reach the same age during their life. Usually, bigger animals have a longer life span, even though there are some exceptions. Humans seem to live exceptionally long, but that might just be due to our own, seemingly artificial, attempts at prolonging life. Scientists from the University of Liverpool investigated 30 animal species to find out what makes certain species live longer than others. They tracked a bunch of proteins and correlated differences in structure with longevity, which yielded results showing how evolution of certain protein structures made animals live longer. We may be able to use this information to slow down our own ageing process.

By tracking 30 animal species and a set amount of proteins, the scientists aimed to find out whether some of them function differently in certain animal species, and whether that difference in function also relates to longer life. A tool made for scanning the genetic code of each animal species allowed for tracking the evolution of the investigated proteins, as changes in the DNA coding for a certain protein can be traced back and put on a time scale. Using that information, the British scientists were able to track down how evolutionary changes in proteins related to increased life span of animal species.

Results showed that animals living relatively long had functional changes in a protein protecting the DNA from damage. It seems that animal species with a long life span are better protected against DNA damage. Because a damaged genome is harmful for cells, it seems logical that such a protein needs to evolve to cope with increased longevity: damaged genes rapidly result in cell death. Additional changes were found in proteins handling important processes such as metabolism, handling cholesterol and recycling of proteins.

These evolutionary patterns show how protein functionality for important processes needs to change in order to allow animals to live longer in proper health. Such findings can also help us to identify targets for new therapies to increase our own life span. Because the British scientists looked at 30 mammal species for comparison, it is likely we will find the same proteins functioning in humans. Allowing them to do their jobs more effectively may increase our life span.
Previous research
A lot of research is currently being devoted to making us live longer in good health. In the last few decades, we have tremendously improved our health care, rendering us able to cure or treat many diseases. Despite not being nearly done with treating diseases, the era of finding ways to improve ourselves beyond what nature has given us seems to be upon us. When it comes to longevity, scientists have already shown that intense work-outs make you live longer. Experimental research has shown that stem cells may revive old tissues and give us new life, while our own genome may also hold the secret to longer life span. Additionally, protein studies in yeast have also shown interesting new therapeutic targets.

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