Subscribe to the BioNews newsletter for free

Login
Advanced Search

Search for
BioNews

Like the Progress Educational Trust on Facebook




 

Key to long life may be in a mutant enzyme

22 November 2009

By Sarah Pritchard

Appeared in BioNews 535

Scientists have discovered among a group of very elderly Jews that their longevity could be due to a mutant enzyme which stops cells ageing. Researchers at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine in the USA studied 86 Ashkenazi Jews with an average age of 97, as well as 175 of their children, and 93 'control' patients whose parents had had an average lifespan.

The centenarians and their offspring were found to all possess high levels of telomerase - an enzyme that replenishes the cells' telomeres, which are short DNA repeat sequences founds at the end of chromosomes. The telomeres protect DNA in the same way that plastic caps protect the ends of shoelaces, by stopping them from 'fraying'.

'Our findings suggest that telomere length and variants of telomerase genes combine to help people live very long lives, perhaps by protecting them from the diseases of old age', said Yousin Suh, lead author of the study, and associate professor of medicine and genetics at the Albert Einstein School. 'It may be possible to develop drugs that mimic the telomerase that our centenarians have been blessed with',' Suh said.

The research is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and involves this particular Ashkenazi Jewish community because they are a genetically isolated population, so it is easier to identify diseases causing genetic differences.

Compared with the control group, the centenarians had significantly higher levels of telomerase and significantly longer telomeres in their blood samples. Each time a cell divides, its telomeres usually shorten until they reach a critically short length and the cell dies, but people with more active telomeres are may be able to maintain their telomere length and thus prolong the lifespan of their body's cells.

Some experts have cast doubt on the generalisation of the research however. Professor Tim Spector from Kings College London, who carries out research on telomeres and ageing, believes that the findings may not apply to other populations. In addition he said: 'There may be a downside to the plan of boosting the repair processes of DNA because giving the cells more chances to divide may increase the chances of damaging mutations developing and causing cancer'.

The full importance of the role of telomeres was recognised this year when three scientists won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for determining the structure of telomeres and discovering how they protect chromosomes from degrading.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
BBC News online | 15 November 2009
 
Examiner.com | 15 November 2009
 
The Daily Telegraph | 15 November 2009
 

RELATED ARTICLES FROM THE BIONEWS ARCHIVE

15 September 2014 - by Ari Haque 
Activating a single gene can slow the ageing process and considerably extend life, scientists have discovered...
02 September 2013 - by Daryl Ramai 
Scientists have extended the lifespan of mice by partially suppressing a gene associated with energy balance and metabolism...
28 May 2012 - by Dr Jessica Mozersky 
Ashkenazi Jews have historically been an endogamous population. Marrying within the group remains important to many Jews because endogamy is seen as one way to preserve Judaism and ensure the survival of future generations. In the wake of the Holocaust, and amidst a steadily decreasing Jewish population, Jewish survival has great cultural relevance...
03 October 2011 - by Dr Louisa Petchey 
A gene associated with increased lifespan in a number of organisms is now thought to have no effect on longevity after a second look revealed significant flaws in the original studies on which the assumptions were based. The findings will disappoint the manufacturers of many anti-ageing creams that claim to work by activating the gene, but are unlikely to put a stop to research...
20 June 2011 - by Dr Susan Kelly 
The world of genetically predicted futures has recently been joined by a test for what is advertised as ‘biological age’. The test promises to provide information about the rate at which one is ageing – and knowing when you will die would make planning for the future so much easier!...

12 October 2009 - by Nienke Korsten 
Three US scientists have won this year's Nobel prize for Medicine or Physiology for their work on how DNA protects itself from degradation, the Nobel Assembly at Sweden's Karolinska Institute announced on 5 October. Their discoveries 'have added a new dimension to our understanding of the cell, shed light on disease mechanisms, and stimulated the development of potential new therapies', the Assembly said....
22 June 2009 - by Dr Charlotte Maden 
Scientists in the US have found a novel way of defining how old you are at a molecular level. The hope is that the technique could be used to predict how tissues respond to treatments or surgery....
15 January 2007 - by Dr Laura Bell 
New research published in the Lancet medical journal last week shows a potential new way to identify people who have a higher risk of heart disease. Telomeres are the strands of DNA that cap and protect our chromosomes. They act as a kind of cellular clock...
03 February 2003 - by BioNews 
The length of your life could be related to the length of your telomeres - the segments of DNA that make up the ends of chromosomes. A new study suggests that people with shorter telomeres may die earlier than those with longer telomeres, either from an infectious disease or a heart...

HAVE YOUR SAY
Be the first to have your say.

You need to or  to add comments.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions


- click here to enquire about using this story.

Published by the Progress Educational Trust
Advertise your products and services HERE - click for further details

Good Fundraising Code

Become a Friend of PET HERE and give the Progress Educational Trust a regular donation