Justin Williams ’13
On April 1, 2010, scientists funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council at the University of Birmingham uncovered a gene that is strongly related to the lifespan in Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) and three of its close relatives. Scientists used longevity of life, immunity, and resistance to stress as the main determinants of the worms lifespan.
Head researcher Dr. Robin May explains the purpose of their research: “We wanted to find out how normal ageing is being governed by genes and what effect these genes have on other traits, such as immunity.” To do this, they looked at a gene that has been known to play an important role in the ‘dauer’ stage of development and influence the longevity of life in worms, gene DAF-16.
To figure out the exact role this gene plays in the worms lifespan, researchers sought out the relationship between the worms lifespan/resistance to stress and that its expression of the DAF-16 gene. To induce stress in worms scientists exposed “them to high temperature, heavy metals and a range of bacterial and fungal diseases.”
Their results were very promising. As they expected, the DAF-16 gene and it’s expression in worms positively correlated to their lifespan, and, in general, “higher levels of DAF-16 activity correlated with longer life, increased stress resistance and better immunity against some infections.”
Although this study was performed on worms, scientists have high expectations for the implications in humans. Researchers say that “it is possible that this knowledge could open up new avenues for altering ageing, immunity and resistance to stresses in humans.”