The fountain of youth might be more like a trash shredder of youth.
Scientists at UCLA have found a single gene that, when stimulated to be overexpressed, extends the healthy life span of fruit flies by more than 25 percent.
The gene, called parkin, plays an important role in disposing of damaged proteins within a cell. Previous studies have suggested that protein build up within cells may play an important role in aging. In fruit flies, and potentially in humans, parkin "marks" damaged proteins and instructs the cell to dispose of them.
By stimulating parkin expression, thereby boosting the power of the "cellular garbage disposal," David Walker, lead author of the study, was able to keep a group of fruit flies alive much longer than normal.
"In the control group, the flies are all dead by day 50," Walker said in a statement. "In the group with parkin overexpressed, almost half of the population is still alive after 50 days. We have manipulated only one of their roughly 15,000 genes, and yet the consequences for the organism are profound."
According to the study, published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, overexpression of parkin led to "a significant increase in longevity without any physiological tradeoffs. Fruit flies altered to overexpress parkin remained "healthy, active and fertile" much longer than a control group.
Walker said that parkin has previously been linked to Parkinson's Disease in humans, but his finding suggests that parkin might play a role in other age-related diseases as well. Previous fruit fly studies have found that removing parkin leads to earlier death.
"Our research may be telling us that parkin could be an important therapeutic target for neurodegenerative diseases and perhaps other diseases of aging," Walker said. "Instead of studying the diseases of aging one by one, we believe it may be possible to intervene in the aging process and delay the onset of many of these diseases. We are not there yet, and it can, of course, take many years, but that is our goal."