Scientists find aging gene is linked to immunity

Thu Apr 1, 2010 5:32pm EDT
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By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) - British scientists studying the genetics of aging said on Thursday that experiments on laboratory worms showed that a specific gene is strongly linked to lifespan, immunity and disease resistance.

Since the gene, called DAF-16 in worms, is found in many animals and in humans, the finding could open up new ways to affect aging, immunity and resistance in humans, the scientists said.

"We wanted to find out how normal aging is being governed by genes and what effect these genes have on other traits, such as immunity," said Robin May of the University of Birmingham, who led the study.

Populations across the world are aging at a staggering pace, posing potentially big challenges for health and social care systems. A study by Danish scientists last year found that half of babies born in the rich world today will live to celebrate their 100th birthdays.

Scientists are keen to find out how people age to try to develop drugs to help them stay healthier as their lives extend.

"What we have found is that things like resistance and aging tend to go hand in hand," May said in an interview.

May's team compared longevity, stress resistance and immunity in four related species of worm. They also looked for differences in the activity of DAF-16 in each of the four species, and found that they were all quite distinct.

Importantly, the differences in DAF-16 corresponded to differences in longevity, stress resistance and immunity between the four species, with higher levels of DAF-16 activity correlating to longer life, increased resistance and better immunity against some infections.   Continued...

<p>A man sits near the Jaffa Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem in this March 4, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Baz Ratner</p>