Italian-led team increases organism lifespan tenfold

Thu, 01/17/2008 - 06:57

Italian-led team increases organism lifespan tenfoldA micro-organism developed by an Italian researcher brings scientists one step closer to immortality.

The team led by biological sciences professor Valter Longo at the University of Southern California has extended the lifespan of yeast tenfold, the latest edition of monthly PLoS Genetics reports.

Translated into human terms, this would result in people living for up 800 years.

The breakthrough is the combination of genetic modification and diet changes, which put a major halt on the aging process.

''We are laying the groundwork for reprogramming a healthy life,'' said Longo, who has worked in the anti-aging field for 15 years.

Although yeast is a simple micro-organism, it shares numerous genes with humankind.

It has been used in scientific research of this type for decades, contributing to the development of many drugs currently on sale.

In the first step of Longo's study, he effectively put the yeast on a diet, by massively reducing its calorie intake.

Reducing calorie intake in mice and other mammals by about 60-70% has repeatedly resulted in a longer lifespan, apparently also protecting them against cancer and other aging-related diseases.

A nutrient shortage is thought to force organisms into ''maintenance mode'', which allows them to temporarily shift energy from growth into anti-aging processes.

Combining this with genetic modification produces a radical effect, according to Longo's research.

By ''switching off'' the genes RAS2 and SCH9, Longo's team brought the aging process in the yeast to a near standstill, allowing it to live ten times longer than usual.

In the next stage, the team will test the technique on mice.

Meanwhile, Longo is also preparing to travel to Ecuador to study a long-lived human population there with mutations reportedly similar to those tested on the yeast.