John K Clark (johnkc@well.com)
Fri, 15 Aug 1997 11:13:24 -0700 (PDT)


A year or two ago a gene was found in the roundworm C.elegans that if mutated
allowed the worm to live 8 times its normal life span. This is not quite as
exciting as it seems because the mutation also slowed down everything in the
animal about 8 times. In today's issue of the journal Science Dr. Gary Ruvkum
found that if he made a change in another gene, called daf-2, the worm lived
3 times as long BUT without slowing the animal down and putting it into a
general torpor.

Ruvkum also found the daf-2 gene in humans and 35% of it is identical to the
one in worms. In humans daf-2 codes for a protein in the outer wall of cells
that is the receptor for insulin. Insulin is just information, it tells cells
how much glucose to metabolize. The products of this metabolism are free
radicals and other nasty things thought by many to be responsible for aging
and the reason that animals on a very reduced diet live longer.

People with non-insulin dependent diabetes also have a mutation in their
daf-2 gene, although it's not know if it's the same one Ruvkum produced,
these people can make insulin but can't use it efficiently, they don't live
longer and that's puzzling. Maybe the extra glucose in the blood is more
detrimental than other effects are helpful or maybe another mutation or
another gene is involved, but I think it's hopeful and I'm not the only one.

Longevity expert Dr. Caleb E Finch of The University of Southern California
says "I think it's a gorgeous piece of work[...] the bottom line is that
there may be fundamental mechanisms that prevail among all multicellular
organisms and that may be very informative in managing human aging. [...]
as we learn more about the specific behavior of genes that predispose to
health problems we will be able to modify many aspects of aging".

John K Clark johnkc@well.com

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