Biologist may have found gene of youth

February 09, 1992|By Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO -- The discovery of a key anti-aging gene in fruit flies opens the possibility of doubling the life span of humans, according to a University of California scientist.

The anti-aging gene, discovered when fruit flies were selectively bred to live the human equivalent of 150 years, is one of the key genes that control the aging process, evolutionary biologist Michael Rose reported Friday. While more than 100 genes may be involved in human aging, manipulation of only a few might be able to greatly extend life span, he said.

"Biologists used to say that aging was mysterious and that it would never be understood," Mr. Rose said at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Mr. Rose and other researchers reported successful attempts to increase the life spans of simple life forms -- fruit flies, yeast and tiny roundworms -- by manipulating genes.

"With the scientific foundation we are now building, for the first time in human history there is a real possibility of affecting the aging process with biomedical intervention," Mr. Rose said.

He created his "Methuselah" fruit flies by subjecting the insects to different evolutionary pressures. By selecting older fruit flies that were able to conceive later in life -- and continuing to select hundreds of generations of their progeny for longevity -- he was able to create flies that routinely live 80 to 100 days. A normal fruit fly lives 40 to 50 days.

Analysis of the long-lived flies revealed that they had an anti-aging gene that was much more active than the one in their short-lived relatives, he said.

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