Human aging gene found in flies

May 12, 2008

Scientists funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) have found a fast and effective way to investigate important aspects of human ageing. Working at the University of Oxford and The Open University, Dr Lynne Cox and Dr Robert Saunders have discovered a gene in fruit flies that means flies can now be used to study the effects ageing has on DNA.

In new work published today in the journal Aging Cell, the researchers demonstrate the value of this model in helping us to understand the ageing process. This exciting study demonstrates that fruit flies can be used to study critical aspects of human ageing at cellular, genetic and biochemical levels.

Dr Lynne Cox from the University of Oxford said: “We study a premature human ageing disease called Werner syndrome to help us understand normal ageing. The key to this disease is that changes in a single gene (called WRN) mean that patients age very quickly. Scientists have made great progress in working out what this gene does in the test tube, but until now we haven’t been able to investigate the gene to look at its effect on development and the whole body. By working on this gene in fruit flies, we can model human ageing in a powerful experimental system.”

Dr Robert Saunders from The Open University added: “This work shows for the first time that we can use the short-lived fruit fly to investigate the function of an important human ageing gene. We have opened up the exciting possibility of using this model system to analyse the way that such genes work in a whole organism, not just in single cells.”

Dr Saunders, Dr Cox and colleagues have identified the fruit fly equivalent of the key human ageing gene known as WRN. They find that flies with damage to this gene share important features with people suffering from the rapid ageing condition Werner syndrome, who also have damage to the WRN gene. In particular, the DNA, or genetic blueprint, is unstable in the flies that have the damaged version of the gene and the chromosomes are often altered.

The researchers show that the fly’s DNA becomes rearranged, with genes being swapped between chromosomes. In patients with Werner syndrome, this genome instability leads to cancer. Cells derived from Werner syndrome patients are extremely sensitive to a drug often used to treat cancers: the researchers show that the flies that have the damaged gene are killed by even very low doses of the drug.

Professor Nigel Brown, Director of Science and Technology, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council said: “The ageing population presents a major research challenge to the UK and we need effort to understand normal ageing and the characteristics that accompany it.”

“Fruit flies are already used as a model for the genetics behind mechanisms that underlie normal functioning of the human body and it is great news that this powerful research tool can be applied to such an important area of study into human health.”

Source: Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council

Explore further: Study uncovers potential 'silver bullet' for preventing and treating colon cancer

Related Stories

Study uncovers potential 'silver bullet' for preventing and treating colon cancer

July 26, 2017
In preclinical experiments, researchers at VCU Massey Cancer Center have uncovered a new way in which colon cancer develops, as well as a potential "silver bullet" for preventing and treating it. The findings may extend to ...

Scientists and patient volunteers reunite after 12 years for new study

July 21, 2017
Patients who took part in research into bowel health more than a decade ago have reunited for a follow-up study to help experts gain a better understanding into the risks of bowel cancer.

Use of cognitive abilities to care for grandkids may have driven evolution of menopause

July 20, 2017
Instead of having more children, a grandmother may pass on her genes more successfully by using her cognitive abilities to directly or indirectly aid her existing children and grandchildren. Such an advantage could have driven ...

New findings suggest a genetic influence on aging into the 90s but not beyond

July 18, 2017
Variants of a gene thought to be linked to longevity appear to influence aging into the 90s, but do not appear to affect exceptional longevity, or aging over 100, a new study has found.

Early menopause is independently linked to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes

July 18, 2017
Women with early or normal onset menopause are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those with late onset menopause, concludes new research published in Diabetologia—the journal of the European Association ...

Exome sequencing unravels rare disease mysteries

July 19, 2017
When Audrey Lapidus' 10-month old son, Calvin, didn't reach normal milestones like rolling over or crawling, she knew something was wrong.

Recommended for you

The 16 genetic markers that can cut a life story short

July 27, 2017
The answer to how long each of us will live is partly encoded in our genome. Researchers have identified 16 genetic markers associated with a decreased lifespan, including 14 new to science. This is the largest set of markers ...

A rogue gene is causing seizures in babies—here's how scientists wants to stop it

July 26, 2017
Two rare diseases caused by a malfunctioning gene that triggers seizures or involuntary movements in children as early as a few days old have left scientists searching for answers and better treatment options.

Scientists provide insight into genetic basis of neuropsychiatric disorders

July 21, 2017
A study by scientists at the Children's Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern (CRI) is providing insight into the genetic basis of neuropsychiatric disorders. In this research, the first mouse model of a mutation ...

Scientists identify new way cells turn off genes

July 19, 2017
Cells have more than one trick up their sleeve for controlling certain genes that regulate fetal growth and development.

South Asian genomes could be boon for disease research, scientists say

July 18, 2017
The Indian subcontinent's massive population is nearing 1.5 billion according to recent accounts. But that population is far from monolithic; it's made up of nearly 5,000 well-defined sub-groups, making the region one of ...

Mutant yeast reveals details of the aberrant genomic machinery of children's high-grade gliomas

July 18, 2017
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital biologists have used engineered yeast cells to discover how a mutation that is frequently found in pediatric brain tumor high-grade glioma triggers a cascade of genomic malfunctions.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.