Deleting one gene can extend life by 60-percent
In the near future, gene manipulation, specifically deleting one gene in particular could extend life by as much as 60-percent.
Thanks to a combination of better health care and improved lifestyle, humans are living longer than ever before. In the past, someone living to the age of 100 was unheard of, now it is a realistic goal for many.
But what if one day we look at 100 as middle age? The first person to live to 150 years old has already been born, but what if humans could reach 200 years old? 250?
That future might be closer than you think, and if the conclusions of a decade-long study from the Buck Institute for Research on Ageing prove correct, we may have found a significant shortcut.
For the last ten years, the Institute has looked at the effects of certain genes on the aging process. Working with yeast, the group found that by shutting off specific genes, they could significantly extend the life of the yeast. That study then made an even more significant discovery when the researchers discovered that by turning of one gene – one specific gene – the yeast’s life expectancy increased by 60-percent.
“This study looks at aging in the context of the whole genome and gives us a more complete picture of what aging is,” said lead author Dr Brian Kennedy.
The study tested 4,698 strains of yeast, with each strain having a single gene turned off. The study identified 238 genes that could increase the lifespan of yeast, and around half of those genes are present in mammals. The yeast containing the modified gene LOS1, however, stood out – it extended the life of the yeast by 60 percent.
In humans, the gene is connected to calorie restriction and fasting, something that has been proven to help increase your lifespan. It’s too early to know what manipulating that gene might do in humans, but the results are encouraging for a number of reasons.
So far, the tests have exclusively focused on yeast, but that will expand. And while it may be a while before we are able to custom splice our own genes, this discovery alone could lead to significant breakthroughs in extending the human lifespan.
“In theory, any of these factors could be therapeutic targets to extend healthspan. What we have to do now is figure out which ones are amenable to targeting.”
During the Hellenistic era, the average life expectancy – not to be confused with life span – was just 28 years, and despite the technological advancements of the Romans, it improved to just 30. Even as early as 1900, the average life expectancy around the world was no more than 40 years old.
Of course, most of that average is due more to the advent of modern medicine. One of the largest contributing factors to that low average is the high child mortality rate, paired with deaths in childbirth. By comparison, the average life expectancy in the United States is just over 78 years old. In Japan, it is 83 years. Our lifespan, however, is significantly higher, and continues to improve.
During the 16th century, English aristocracy – one of the most pampered and well-maintained groups on the planet – could live to the age of 70 or so at most. The average age though, was just 30. In 2009, the number of people that lived to the age of 100 was around 455,000 around the world – by 2050, that number is expected to be 4.1 million.
There is no exact age limit on humans, and each person is different. The current record belongs to Jiroemon Kimura of Japan, who lived to the age of 116. One day, that could be seen as middle-aged.