A study of the cellular aging of the cells found in yeast by scientists in the University of California San Diego has given fascinating insights into the ways the human body gets older.
Yeast was chosen as the study subject because the cells in yeast are easily manipulated, and the scientists were trying to figure out why different cells age at different rates. Their findings, published in the Science journal showed that cells made of the same genetic materials and within the same environment aged in "strikingly distinct ways."
About half of the yeast cells aged because of a gradual decline in the nucleolus, a round body located in the nucleus of a cell, the scientists learned, by using techniques including microfluidics and computer modeling. However, the other half aged because of a dysfunction of mitochondria, which produce a cell's energy. The research found evidence that the cells go down one of two paths -- nuclear or mitochondrial -- early in life, and they continue with the aging route until they ultimately decline and die.
"To understand how cells make these decisions, we identified the molecular processes underlying each aging route and the connections among them, revealing a molecular circuit that controls cell aging, analogous to electric circuits that control home appliances," said Nan Hao, senior author of the study and an associate professor in UCSD's division of biological sciences' molecular biology section.
After these findings, the team used computer simulations to manipulate the aging process and optimize the cells at the DNA level. This has created a potential method for greatly slowing the aging process.
Speaking as a person who just celebrated their 40th birthday, they'd better hurry the hell up.
"This is an aging path that never existed, but because we understand how it is regulated, we can basically design or regulate a new aging path," Hao said. "Our study raises the possibility of rationally designing gene or chemical-based therapies to reprogram how human cells age, with a goal of effectively delaying human aging and extending human healthspan."
This information, combined with further research into pharmaceutical and medical sciences, means promising things for the future. Right now the scientists are doing tests on more complex cells.
"Aging is a fundamental biological question. We know very little about the aging process," Hao told CNN. When it comes to medical relevance, he said, "aging is related to many diseases so if we can help slow aging or promote longevity, it will be beneficial for society."