Anti-Aging: Japanese Scientists Tweak Genes To Reverse Aging Of Human Cells

Japanese scientists have altered the behavior of a few genes and gained greater insight on aging. They claim, by further manipulation of the genes, they can either accelerate or reverse the effects of aging.

Researchers changed the behavior of two genes that govern the production of amino acid glycine in the cell’s mitochondria and figured out how to effectively switch these genes on or off. By careful control of the production of amino acids in the cells, the researchers could either accelerate the process of intra-cell aging or decelerate and reverse the aging process.

By accelerating the aging, the scientists influenced the development of significant defects, typical to growing old. But by reversing the aging, they managed to restore the capacity for cellular respiration. The scientists boosted the production of glycine in a 97-year-old cell line just for 10 days, but achieved complete rejuvenation of cellular respiration and effectively reversing the cell line’s age.

This method is quite different to the ones reported recently and doesn’t involve stem cell research which has been a bit controversial to begin with. Earlier research was focused on accumulation of mutations in mitochondrial DNA which lead to lowering of efficiency of cells. Deprived of sufficient energy, the cells wither away and die. Defects in the cell’s mitochondria, is still thought to lead to damage in the DNA. Damaged DNA is directly linked to age-related hair and weight loss, curvature of the spine, osteoporosis and a decreased lifespan, feel the researchers.

However, this research takes a completely different approach. Led by Jun-Ichi Hayashi at the University of Tsukuba, the researchers believe certain crucial genes are being turned on and off as we get older. A similar research recently allowed scientists to keep the production of hemoglobin going on.

The team compared human fibroblast cell lines gathered from fetuses to 12 years old and the elderly, from 80 to 97 years old. The scientists realized there was no difference in the amount of DNA damage between the two, thereby challenging earlier theories related to aging. The team hypothesized aging was due to addition or subtraction of chemical structures or proteins, reasoned Eric Mack,

“Unlike mutations that damage that sequence, as in the other, aforementioned theory of aging, epigenetic changes could possibly be reversed by genetically reprogramming cells to an embryonic stem cell-like state, effectively turning back the clock on aging,”

While the fountain of youth is still a little elusive, the scientists feel they are on the right track and perhaps in the future, mere dietary supplements might allow us to stay young forever.

[Image Credit | Getty Images]