Saturday, February 23, 2013

Cold genes promote longer life

It has been known for quite some time that cold blooded animals live longer when they are in a cold environment. Apparently, a cold temperature changes the behaviour of genes and preserves the body, promoting longevity. Scientists have found the genetic program that responds to cold temperatures and correspondingly helps animals to live longer. And the best part is that the temperature sensitive genes found in cold blooded animals are also present in warm blooded animals like ourselves. That means that manipulating these genes may help us live longer.

Researchers at the University of Michigan studied a cold blooded roundworm to find out more about how such animals respond to colder temperatures. According to the scientists, exposure to cold air leads to activation of a receptor that eventually results in calcium flowing into the cell. The elevated level of calcium eventually activates a gene that increases the life span of roundworms. Experiments also showed that roundworms lacking that particular receptor did not live as long in colder temperatures when compared with their wildtype counterparts.

It was already known that lowering the body temperature slightly in mice on average increases life span by 20 percent. However, up till now, the mechanism by which this happens remained unknown. The calcium-based signalling pathway also exists in mammals, which makes it likely that the cold-induced increased life span in mice also works trough this mechanism. This is interesting for us, because it means this particular signalling pathway not only functions in cold blooded animals and we may use it to expand our own lives.

The Michigan scientists already found a way to artificially stimulate the calcium-based signalling pathway: apparently a compound in wasabi, a Japanese spice often used in sushi, stimulates the receptor that is normally sensitive to cold temperatures. Perhaps eating more sushi activates this particular receptor in our cells and promotes a longer life span, but that is something that needs more investigation. Perhaps we can also find more effective pharmacological ways to stimulate this signalling pathway and, by doing that, increase the length of our lives.
A basket of wasabi.

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