Different species age at vastly different rates. Even among members of a given species, the rate of aging can be modified dramatically by changes in a single gene.

Genes that control the rate of aging have been uncovered by studies of many different species including: birds, rodents (especially mice), humans, yeast, the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans, and the fruit fly Drosophila melanosgaster.

Our ultimate goal is not simply to extend life but to extend the disease-free period of our lives. In fact, calorie-restricted animals not only live longer but they also remain relatively free of the common ailments of old age, including osteoporosis and cancer.
David A. Sinclair

Genes and Aging

THE SEARCH FOR GENES that extend lifespan and control important aspects of aging has been one of the most active areas of aging research. With a blossoming of new resources and technologies, including the Human Genome Project, RNA interference, and high throughput screening, researchers have identified scores of genes that appear to extend lifespan in the laboratory organisms that serve as models of human aging — yeast, nematodes, fruit flies and mice. But knowing that particular genes influence lifespan doesn't necessarily tell us how those genes produce their effects. Increasingly, researchers have sought to figure out the biochemical pathways that lead to longer, healthier life and to understand the interplay between longevity genes, other genes, hormones and environmental factors, such as caloric restriction, which have been linked to lifespan extension in several species. One theme emerging from the work is how highly conserved some aging-related functions are throughout evolutionary history, from yeast to human. Another is that studies of genes that influence lifespan may provide important clues to preventing characteristic illnesses of age, such as cancer and Alzheimer's disease, and to alleviating the physical and mental degeneration that so often makes a torment of old age. Some Ellison Medical Foundation Scholars already have played a major role in uncovering genetic influences on aging, helping to create a new field of knowledge in the process. The Ellison Medical Foundation continues to fund a full range of research, from yeast to human populations, in this centrally important biological arena.


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