Page URL:

Dead end for the 'longevity gene'?

3 October 2011
Appeared in BioNews 627

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. The gene is still known to play an important role in protecting against the damage of high-fat diets and other age-related diseases.

The existence of a 'longevity gene' was supported by evidence from a number of different studies, but 'none seem to stand up to close scrutiny', according to Dr David Gems from the Institute of Healthy Ageing at University College London, who headed up the UK-based investigation. 'Far from being a key to longevity', the gene has 'nothing to do with extending life', he said.

The gene, called SIRT1 in humans, is also found in yeast, worms and flies and produces proteins called sirtuins. Previous research showed that higher levels of sirtuins in these model organisms increased lifespan compared to their normal or 'wild type' counterparts, in some cases by 50 percent. But when Dr Gems and colleagues looked at the strain of worm used to study the effects of higher sirtuin expression, they found it had an extra genetic mutation that was causing the increase in lifespan.

It was a similar story with the fly studies. When researchers checked that the level of sirtuin was the only difference between the wild type and test strains, they were unable to detect any difference in the length of time they lived for. The study, also refuted the claim that resveratrol, found in anti-ageing creams and red wine, is able to activate sirtuins, or that they are responsible for the increase in fly lifespan induced by dietary restriction, which was found to work independently of sirtuins.

But disproving these previous findings is no bad thing according to Dr Gems: 'Revising old ideas can be as important as presenting new ones to assure scientific progress. This work should help to redirect scientific efforts toward those processes that really do control ageing'.

Professor Johan Auwerx from the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland agrees that the findings put 'a final nail in the coffin' for the role of sirtuins in longevity, but believes that they still have a 'long life as a subject for further exciting research'. Writing a commentary on the study, published in the same issue of Nature, Professor Auwerx and colleagues point to the 'overwhelming body of evidence' that sirtuin activation promotes metabolic fitness that may help us overcome the effects of unhealthy diets and lifestyles. 'Don't write sirtuins off', they conclude.

20 November 2017 - by Dr Charlott Repschlager 
A rare genetic mutation leading to longer and healthier lives has been discovered in the US Amish community...
2 February 2015 - by Dr Victoria Burchell 
A genetic variant may not only help some people live longer, but also changes the way their brain ages, a study suggests....
15 September 2014 - by Ari Haque 
Activating a single gene can slow the ageing process and considerably extend life, scientists have discovered...
28 April 2014 - by James Brooks 
Blood tests of a woman who lived to 115 have revealed that when she died the majority of the white blood cells in her body originated from just two stem cells...
27 August 2013 - by Matthew Thomas 
Genetic mutations passed on from mothers may speed up the ageing process and shorten life expectancy, according to a study on mice...
25 July 2011 - by Dr Lux Fatimathas 
The journal Science has retracted a controversial paper on the genetics of extreme longevity by scientists at Boston University. The paper, released online last year, was retracted before publication in print following a formal ‘expression of concern’ regarding fundamental technical flaws....
18 April 2011 - by Dr Nadeem Shaikh 
A research team from King's College London led by Dr Guangju Zhai has completed a meta-analysis of seven genetic studies looking at the role of the hormone, dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate (DHEAS), and how it may affect the ageing process in humans...
12 July 2010 - by Chris Chatterton 
Last week, BioNews reported on a study published in Science that claimed to have identified several gene clusters associated with longevity. The study drew significant media interest but, following the paper's publication, experts have raised concerns about the data...
24 May 2010 - by Dr Tamara Hirsch 
Scientists have identified several genetic variants linked to living a long life. The right 'suite' of so-called 'Methuselah' genes could offset the ill effects of smoking, drinking and poor diet, the new research shows....
22 November 2009 - by Sarah Pritchard 
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....
to add a Comment.

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

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.