SAN DIEGO, Calif. - Growing old is an inevitable fate for humans, but researchers at the University of California San Diego may be one step closer to being able to delay the aging process.
In an article published in the journal Science on July 17, molecular biologists and bioengineers describe how they isolated two separate paths that cells travel during aging and engineered a novel way to genetically program the paths for a longer lifespan.
The group of scientists studied aging in yeast cells to understand if different cells age at the same rate and for the same reason.
They discovered that cells of the same genetic material and within the same environment can age in “strikingly different ways.” Using microfluids, computer modeling and other techniques, the researchers found that around half of the cells age by a gradual decline of the nucleolus — the part of a cell’s nuclear DNA where protein-producing “factories” are synthesized. The other half of the cells aged due to dysfunction in their mitochondria, where energy is produced.
Scientists said that cells go down one of the two paths — nuclear or mitochondrial — early on in their life stages, and follow the aging route throughout their entire lifespans to decline and death.
“To understand how cells make these decisions, we identified the molecular processes underlying each aging route and the connections among them, revealing a molecular circuit that controls cell aging, analogous to electric circuits that control home appliances,” said senior author and associate professor Nan Hao.
Upon discovering a new model of cell aging, Hao and his co-authors discovered that they could manipulate the aging process by genetically creating a novel aging route that results in a longer lifespan.
The researchers plan to test their new model in more complex cells and organisms, and experiment with different chemical techniques and drug “cocktails” that may expand human longevity.
“Our study raises the possibility of rationally designing gene or chemical-based therapies to reprogram how human cells age, with a goal of effectively delaying human aging and extending human healthspan,” said Hao.