Is a worm the key to healthy aging?
Unfortunately, life expectancy, which has been steadily increasing in recent decades, has not ensured that the health and quality of life of older people have improved to the same extent. That is why researchers are looking for ways to improve the quality of life in old age. A newly discovered gene in worms could now provide answers.
Recent research by the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) identified a gene in a worm that is related to the healthy aging of the C. elegans roundworm. The results of the study were published in the English magazine "G3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics".
Movement in old age is an indicator of health
In the roundworm C. elegans, a gene called elpc-2 has been identified that plays an important role in maintaining health status as the worm ages. Worms with defects in this gene show movement disorders at an older age. Exercise at an older age is itself an indicator for the health of people and worms. This gene is preserved in humans, the researchers report. "As we get older, some people maintain their full mobility while others don't, and we want to understand the genetic reasons," explains study author Dr. Kazuto Kawamura from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in a press release.
C. elegans is good for studying aging
This gene is one of the many genes that play an important role in healthy aging. A new experimental approach makes it possible to study hundreds of worms at the same time, which could be useful for other research in the future. The elpc-2 gene is expressed throughout the body by C. elegans. It plays an important role in the ability to move as the worms grow older. C. elegans is a useful model to study aging, because worms have a short lifespan and can be easily manipulated in the lab. The researchers have inserted random mutations in the genome of these worms. By studying the progeny of the mutant worms, it was possible to analyze which mutations affected health.
How was the experiment structured?
Researchers investigated whether organisms could retain their ability to move to a food source as they grew older. For this the worms were placed in the middle of a bowl, with the food on the edge of the bowl. The worms naturally move in the direction of food, provided their movement is not affected. All worms that did not reach the feed on the first day were removed from the experiment. The authors wanted to know how the ability to move decreases with age. The remaining worms were retested as they got older, with the same approach. Several worms with movement disorders were identified in this later test. These were then sequenced and their DNA compared to that of a normal worm to locate the mutations and identify the responsible genes.
What is the Elongator complex?
Creating hundreds of random mutations was not very difficult for the researchers. It was more problematic to find out which mutation is responsible for the influence on the ability to move. However, with the new approach to worms crawling to a food source at the edge of the dish, the motility of hundreds of worms can be tested simultaneously, the authors explain. In this way the researchers identified the ELPC-2 gene and its role in worm health. The gene codes for a part of the so-called elongator complex, which has many important functions, including the control of the correct folding of proteins. Some of these proteins can in turn play a role in locomotion. Worms with a damaged elpc-2 gene lacked a functioning elongator complex, which explains why the movement was affected. To confirm this, the researchers injected these worms with a copy of the gene and the movement was restored.
Further research will take place in Germany
Interestingly, other genes were also identified that also had a major impact on health, but not on the lifespan of animals, the authors report. In other words, the underlying mutations did not have a major impact on how long a worm lives, but on how it moves. This shows that although health and longevity overlap, the genetic basis is different, the researchers explain. In the future, study author Kawamura wants to explore other genes that are important for healthy aging. "Once we have a more complete picture of the genes involved, we can manipulate them to improve health, first with C. elegans and perhaps someday with people," the author says. Kawamura will now continue his work on C. elegans at the prestigious Max Planck Institute for Biology of Aging in Germany. (As)
- Kazuto Kawamura, Ichiro N. Maruyama: Forward Genetic Screen for Caenorhabditis elegans Mutants with a shortened healthspan locomotive, in G3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics (query: 07/14/2019), G3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics
- New gene linked to healthy aging in Worms, Okinawa Institute of science and technology (request: 14/07/2019), OIST
. (TagsToTranslate) Age (t) Health (t) Movement (t) worm (t) ELPC-2