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Has the secret to anti-ageing been found in hyperthermophilic archaea?

New research from University College London (UCL), published in Cell Metabolism, has reported a gene mutation which improves the accuracy of protein synthesis and could increase human longevity.

Could extremophiles hold the secret to living forever?

Bacteria which live in extreme conditions, such as hydrothermal vents, have fascinated scientists for a long time. Their unique genome has allowed them to adapt and live under harsh conditions. Scientists now have found a potential anti-ageing solution from these hyperthermophilic archaea.

Ageing is a complex process which is affected by genetic and environmental factors. Errors during protein synthesis are known to be key drivers of the ageing process. These errors occur due to incorrect translation at the ribosome. However, scientists currently do not fully understand what physiological effects these errors have on the ageing process in more complex organisms.

Investigating the rare mutation in RPS23

In a new study, researchers investigated a genetic mutation found only in hyperthermophilic archaea. The genetic mutation in the RPS23 gene has been found to stop errors in translation in archaea. To determine its effect in other organisms, the researchers engineered this genetic mutation into flies, worms and yeast using CRISPR. These organisms were subsequently found to have less errors in protein synthesis. Most strikingly the yeast cells, worms and flies with the mutation lived between 9% and 23% longer. The mutants also appeared healthier as they aged compared to controls.

Does Rapamycin improve translational accuracy?

The reduction in translational errors shown in this study may provide some explanation as to why anti-ageing drugs, such as rapamycin, are known to extend lifespan in animals. To explore this further, the team at UCL treated the mutants with rapamycin. Here, they found that the mutant flies and yeast cells that were given rapamycin showed an increase in lifespan. This result implies that these drugs work through multiple mechanisms and not just by improving translation accuracy. However, the team did find that rapamycin did not further extend lifespan in worms, suggesting that the drug affects organisms differently.  

Future for anti-ageing

Rapamycin isn’t widely considered a viable anti-ageing treatment for humans, due to its range of side effects, including immune suppression. Nonetheless, this study has demonstrated that translation accuracy can be improved pharmacologically and can in fact impact longevity. The team hope that this study may motivate scientists to screen other compounds which could have similar effects but also be safer for use in humans.

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