According to scientists from Northwestern University, there may be a genetic "switch" that can be turned on to stop the aging process.
Using a commonly studied type of roundworm called C. elegans as their subjects, the scientists looked for the point at which aging began. They found that the tipping point of aging comes a lot sooner than you might expect: as soon as the worms reached reproductive maturity, they lost a protective mechanism called the cellular heat-shock response, which is present in many animals including humans and helps repair cells after they undergo stress.
The researchers found that a single biological signal, sent out when a certain genetic switch is flipped, is responsible for the progression of all the different processes that we associate with aging. This presents an interesting challenge to the previous belief that aging occurs as a result of a series of separate events in the body. It took only eight hours after the C. elegans reached sexual maturity for the switch to be flipped.
"We discovered a switch that is very precise for aging," said senior author Richard I. Morimoto in a statement. "All these stress pathways that insure robustness of tissue function are essential for life, so it was unexpected that a genetic switch is literally thrown eight hours into adulthood, leading to the simultaneous repression of the heat-shock response and other cell stress responses."
When the scientists blocked the switch from being flipped, the adult worms retained the protective cell response and were able to remain extremely stress-resistant all the way into adulthood. This leads the scientists to believe that similar results could eventually be achieved in humans.
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