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Biotech Science

Scientists Discover Possible Anti-Aging Gene 323

werelnon writes "The BBC is running an article about researchers who seem to have discovered a gene which controls aging. By stimulating this gene, which when malfunctioning causes premature aging, scientists have managed to prolong the average life span of lab mice from 2 to 3 years. Because a very similar gene is present in humans it is quite possible it will do the same thing for people." From the article: "But there may be downsides with Klotho. The long-lived mice in the new experiments tend to be less fertile. And the gene may also predispose people to diabetes. The trick for researchers will be to find ways of getting the life-enhancing results of Klotho while avoiding the drawbacks."
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Scientists Discover Possible Anti-Aging Gene

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  • Geriatrics (Score:5, Interesting)

    by silverkniveshotmail. ( 713965 ) * on Saturday August 27, 2005 @02:41AM (#13413870) Journal
    Human life expectancy has been increasing overall for a long time now, and we have come to expect certain diseases and conditions including lack of fertility and diabetes along with many others (see Geriatrics []).
    Could the issues that these mice are having be similar to what we as humans are experiencing by exceeding the lifetimes that generations previous had?
    • Re:Geriatrics (Score:2, Insightful)

      by fgl ( 792403 )
      & Whats wrong with reduced fertility anyway? Do we need more people? especially if they will all be living longer.
    • Re:Geriatrics (Score:3, Informative)

      The majority of cases of diabetes these days has nothing to do with age. In fact there is an epidemic of type 2 diabetes ( formerly know as "adult onset diabetes ) among children called "diabesity".

      As the name implies people are eating themselves into it.

      A large number of fertility issues have also been linked to pollutants in our environment.
    • just the average life expectancy is. The real reason the overall age is increasing is because of the dramatic increase in prenatal care, care of premature babies, and being able to reduce infant mortality. Humans used to lose kids all the time to all varieties of disease and sickness. Even 100 years or so, it was almost expected that you'd lose one to something.
      And our lifestyle choice isn't helping much. The only reason we're not reducing life expectancy is because we have technology to "save" people who
      • by awol ( 98751 ) on Saturday August 27, 2005 @10:19AM (#13415166) Journal
        Sorry, but that is just wrong. Many factors from hygeine to nutrition are actually making people live longer (not just he bump to the average cause by the decrease in infant mortality you mention). That is before we even consider late adult health care that makes heart attacks and strokes survivable.

        Our health is massively improved due largely to hygiene and nutrition because despite the damage that diet can do, the benefits of the improved nutrition of the last 50 - 100 years has lead to larger fitter bodies with almost no incidences of malnutrition in the developed world. The proof is in the life expectancy of the under developed world where both these factors do not exist.

        I cannot get the stats to hand but if you take out mortality in the first five years (which would eliminate the skew you mention from neo/post natal care) then the expected age of a developed world human is vastly greater than it was.

        Further evidence of this is the graph of resting pulse rate vs life expectancy of mammals. It is a remarkable fact that "apart from humans" all mammals exhibit a direct correlation between heart rate and life expetancy to the extent that mammals all seem to have the same number of heartbeats in their life (statistically speaking) apart from humans who are way off the graph with many many more heart beats than normal mammals. Such a contrary position is hard to explain from simple physiological differences.
  • Isn't klotho the element from the Star Wars empire used to heal wounds? I see George Lucas suing over this gene's name...
  • the key... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ErichTheWebGuy ( 745925 ) on Saturday August 27, 2005 @02:47AM (#13413888) Homepage
    The trick for researchers will be to find ways of getting the life-enhancing results of Klotho while avoiding the drawbacks

    Isn't that always the goal of a research scientist? To find the benefits, while mitigating or eliminating the drawbacks?
  • Side effects? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jason1729 ( 561790 ) on Saturday August 27, 2005 @02:47AM (#13413889)
    If you're increasing life expectancy 50%, it seems like decreased fertility would be a benefit, not a drawback. You don't want to cause a population boom.

    • If you're increasing life expectancy 50%, it seems like decreased fertility would be a benefit, not a drawback. You don't want to cause a population boom.

      And you also don't want to see 70 year olds becoming pregant or getting people pregnant.

    • by jd ( 1658 ) <imipak AT yahoo DOT com> on Saturday August 27, 2005 @05:14AM (#13414240) Homepage Journal
      It is logical for species with short life expectancies to have increased fertility, to maximize the odds of species survival. Likewise, those species with long lifespans should have lower fertility. Otherwise, they'd impose too much strain on resources and thereby take themselves out of the gene pool.

      It would be logical, then, if evolution had produced a direct link between aging and fertility. This does not mean it has, only that such a link would be entirely reasonable. We also know, from other work in genetics, that direct links exist in countless places between all sorts of characteristics - even ones you wouldn't necessarily expect.

      Sexual reproduction evolved quite late on and different species have very different numbers of X and Y chromosomes. The Duck-Billed Platypus [] has 5 X chromosomes, 5 Y chromosomes and a determination system that simply isn't understood at all. It would seem likely, then, that this is a product or extension of aging. Again, this would make a lot of sense, as there is really nothing else that would make sense.

      I would imagine there to be multiple links, too. Genetic material is damaged over time, so a later adaptation would presumably have been to put the energy and effort into a timeframe where damage is within acceptable limits. It is also possible that, in species with simple-enough genetic material, this might even be leveraged - a small amount of damage would maximize diversity through subtle mis-copies of the genetic code. The genes would need to be fantastically fault-tolerent for this to work, but it is certainly within the realms of the imaginable.

      The upshot of all this is simple enough - tweak one parameter and it WILL impact people in other ways. Rather than regarding this as a problem, it may prove very helpful, as not all parameters are going to be directly or easily controllable. There may be other ways to tweak them, if you exploit these kinds of side-effects.

      Of course, they still have to find a way to alter genetic material safely. Existing mechanisms use modified retroviruses that embed desired sequences into the infected person. This method has a moderate-to-high risk of a rare form of leukemia. It is also unclear what impact (if any) the old code remaining present will have.

      The problems are not well-understood and the complexity of human genetic code is still too great to be subject to detailed analysis. However, the fact that results are being obtained at all shows that these are very bright people with a good understanding of their subject. It'll be interesting to see how far this goes, over time.

      One final note - this might be a way to help revive long-lived species on the edge of extinction. If increasing longevity decreases fertility for the reasons I've suggested, then decreasing longevity should increase fertility. It may be possible to use this (in conjunction with other fertility treatments, if any are usable) to help rebuild populations where the genetics would normally work against them.

    • Unless your a guy and decreased fertility means never having an erection again. It's all about quality of life. Would you consider a treatment that would prolong your life 30 years but required your genitals to be removed? Perhaps when you are 70 but not when you're 18.
    • If you're increasing life expectancy 50%, it seems like decreased fertility would be a benefit, not a drawback. You don't want to cause a population boom.

      This might depend on who "you" is. I thought the traditional Catholic position against birth control was because people were supposed to be fruitful and multiply. I wonder if the Catholic church will then take a position against this because it inhibits such multiplication...

    • I think it's too late to stop a population boom. 10 years ago the world population was 5 billion, now it's six billion so there's 1 billion kid's under 10 out there. In another 10 years they're going to start having their own children and their grandparents (not to mention parents) still have 30 years left of the natural life span left!
      Man it's too late, exponential growth. Can't keep going forever though - naturally there will be a calamity, wars or combination of like circumstances (greenhouse gases,
    • Re:Side effects? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Xyrus ( 755017 )
      Increasing life expentancy by 50% will also discover even more errors in our genetic code. That's the main reason why we are discovering so many age related ailments. Our code was designed to help us survive to a certain point because that's how long most of us lived. Our lifespans have increased faster than our code could evolve, so after a certain point, we're running in untested conditions. Sometimes we can apply a patch to a problem, other times we can't. Be that as it may, I think "curing" aging will
  • Good thing too... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Duncan3 ( 10537 ) on Saturday August 27, 2005 @02:48AM (#13413892) Homepage
    But there may be downsides with Klotho. The long-lived mice in the new experiments tend to be less fertile.

    Good thing, or we'd be overrun by mice! If you live longer, you better breed slower. Imagine if elephants bred as often as rabbits?
  • Scientist also reported that implementing this into a anti aging drug would involve the destruction of millions of kittens and 14 sea otters and one Great Dane puppy to derive enough of the compound to supply the worlds population.

    Fortunately the Lead Scientist isn't a Cat person.

    Attempt was made to contact PETA, but they apparently were in to much shock to respond, but we expect them to be happy with the idea.
  • by ScaryMonkey ( 886119 ) on Saturday August 27, 2005 @02:55AM (#13413913)
    "The head of the research team developing the drug had this to say about the breakthrough: 'MWUHAHAHAHA! Soon I will be... IMMORTAL! HAHAHAHA!' The team expects the drug to be available to the general public 'At the whim of your new overlords.'"
  • The trick for researchers will be to find ways of getting the life-enhancing results of Klotho while avoiding the drawbacks

    I would not call "less fertile" and "predispose people to diabetes" life-enhancing. Life-extending may be, but enhancing?
  • by Quadraginta ( 902985 ) on Saturday August 27, 2005 @03:01AM (#13413938)
    You know, it's very likely the only way a beneficial artificial genetic variation like this would reach the masses is by a technology that modifies your genes very soon after conception. Because once you're born, or (worse) reach adulthood, it becomes very tricky and expensive to evade the body's built-in defenses against alien genetic material (e.g. viruses). So even if a life-extending genetic treatment became available, you'd very likely only be able to take advantage of it (1) before you're born or (2) after you become fabulously rich.

    And doesn't that open an interesting can of worms? If, for example, it turns out that some people with decently well-off and very foresightful parents can live 50% longer than the rest of us? If you think we have nasty debates now about, say, equal opportunity in college education, just wait a few decades, when it's a question of equal opportunity for that extra 30 years of life...
    • That's not the way this sort of research usually works. Rather than "fixing the gene", their likely goal is to figure out what protein it codes for, then figure out the metabolic pathways that the protein is involved in, and then see what sort of drugs can be formulated to make those processes work the way they'd like.
    • It depends on how much we come to rely on gene therapy in medicine. If a large portion of treatments require the formulation of gene therapy viruses, then we'll find a way to mass-produce them cheaply, like everything else. If this is the only thing anyone ever wants to do with it, yeah, it'll probably stay expensive a long time. As for modifying human genes before birth, it's going to be a long, long time before the various regulatory agencies let that one happen.
    • If, for example, it turns out that some people with decently well-off and very foresightful parents can live 50% longer than the rest of us?

      Well, then at least someone will be able to live longer in contrast to nobody at all.

      And didn't it strike you as odd that the Queen of Britain died exactly around a round date? Who knows, maybe she is still around?

    • ... even if a life-extending genetic treatment became available, you'd very likely only be able to take advantage of it .. after you become fabulously rich.

      Like all technologies, medicine goes where the money is. After the billionaires are "immortalized", new efficiencies and economies-of-scale will rapidly reach out for the multi-millionaires, and then, eventually, even for thee and me...

  • Related subjects (Score:5, Informative)

    by Quirk ( 36086 ) on Saturday August 27, 2005 @03:06AM (#13413957) Homepage Journal
    There are related areas of interest:

    The Hayflick Barrier [], that suggests cells will replicate only a certain number of times.

    Hela cells [] having to do with cancerous "immortal cells" and the length of telomeres [] and aging.

    lysosomes [] which as the "recycling bins" of cells may overtime become "clogged" with material the cells are unable to recycle and cause cell death.

    No matter that there may be a genetic tweak for aging there are other things at play that may impact on the genetic tweak.

  • Age Limits (Score:5, Informative)

    by nimblebrain ( 683478 ) on Saturday August 27, 2005 @03:07AM (#13413962) Homepage Journal

    There are a few limitations to our lifespan. The Hayflick limit [] may be a driving factor. Body cells, with very few exceptions, have a limit on the number of divisions they can make. This may be related to the way that every time a cell divides, one of the daughter cells has a slightly shorter copy. The ends of the chromosome are telomeres, the aglets [] on our gene shoelaces.

    Of course, many of our tissues divide more than others, and we're vulnerable to a weak point of failure, whether it be skin tissue (definitely a point of infection), blood supply, blood vessels or what have you.

    There have been two major schools of thought about aging, and many points in-between. On one side, some think that aging is caused by an incredible number of small failures from separate causes, and to try to beat aging is doomed to fail on this alone. On the other side of the issue, there are those who believe one or perhaps two major items are at fault for aging, and that we can close to an Elixir of Youth. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.

    I still highly recommend Michael D. West's book The Immortal Cell [] for an inside account of one search for a cure for aging. (He's also one of the co-authors of the hefty tome Principles of Cloning []). Fascinating stuff, and definitely not the stuff of 'fringe' science.

    • All of the cells of the body which are exposed to the external environment in some way (skin, intestines, lung, etc.) replicate to renew themselves. Excess replication leads to cancer which causes about 30% of all deaths. The Hayflick Limit (telomere shortening) is a cancer prevention mechanism.

      But there is no inherent reason that cells cannot be designed so that they replicate more accurately (they probably do in elephants and whales which have many more cells than we do). Any programmer knows that you
    • The things most likely to limit my lifespan are the people with a defective "SUV" gene with whom I must dispute the right-of-way every morning on Interstate 294.
  • From a person who doesn't know much about this topic, it seems like the longer people live, the worse shape they become. As people start reaching their late 70s and 80s, they getting many health problems that, quite frankly, I would rather not live with. These problems can be mental and/or physical so that you could have a body that is fragile and brittle, but a working mind. This makes it so that you know that you are brittle and fragile, but you can't do anything about it. The reverse of that would be
    • i think you are quite right in your train of thought, there is no point to being able to live an extra 30 years if the quality of life can't be extended. we have definately been acheiving this, eg. 30 is now labeled the new 20's
      • My father (who passed away a few months ago) had a major stroke which put him in a wheelchair. He needed help with the most basic life functions. Later, Parkinson's disease starting taking away his mind--very, very slowly, over a period of 10 years. He *knew* he was losing his memories, his ability to read, and even to form a coherent sentence. He could still understand me, and until almost the very end of his life, I could understand him.

        For all 15 years of this degenerative process, up until the last two
    • I think a distinction has to be made here between life extension and anti-aging.
      from the article:

      Klotho seems to delay many of the effects of old age, like the weakening of bones, clogging of the arteries and loss of muscle fitness.

      This is important for those researching the causes of ageing, whose intention is not so much to prolong life as to improve the quality of our final years.

      I have to agree I wouldn't want to live in a decrepit state, but staying young for longer has a definite appeal.

    • You look at this the wrong way around. Alzheimers for instance eventually kills you. So does a wide range of the other problems that are associated with old age. Nobody dies just of old age, but of problems caused by decay of various parts of the body that makes various problems such as alzheimers, cancer and heart disease more likely to get you.

      Any "anti-aging" gene would be unable to prevent you from dying unless it reduces your chance of dying of at least some of the main causes of death in old people

  • by Sartak ( 589317 ) on Saturday August 27, 2005 @03:20AM (#13413989) Homepage
    Scientists discover that Klotho's evil twin brother, Cthulhu, can be used without the drawbacks of life-enhancing results.
  • Now, it will be interesting to compare this gene with previously covered longevity gene discovered in fruit flies - Indy. What proteins do they encode, what are their roles etc? 5082220.htm []

    Running a quick and dirty comparison analysis using Genebank BLAST shows no obvious similarities.
  • by zymano ( 581466 )
    Stem cells can cure aging like osteoperosis and arthritis.

    Seems like antiaging to me without messing with genes .
  • The trick for researchers will be to find ways of getting the life-enhancing results of Klotho while avoiding the drawbacks.

    Well let's see. You get diabetes, you are less fertile or you have 35 years less life? Well according to the FDA getting diabetes or becoming infertile makes the benefit of the drug, living 35 years longer, totally unacceptable. I think if people were allowed to make this choice themselves instead of the government they could live with the side effects.
  • The article fails to specify what is meant by "anti-aging". Is it keeping a very old living being alive longer? Or does it also have the added benefit of decreasing visible and physical signs of aging to the subject in question? If all that this drug can do is keep a very very old-looking person alive a bit longer, but not feel or look as old as they are, I say big deal. If I'm that old and weak, I'd probably want to die soon anyway.
  • whiners (Score:2, Insightful)

    the current average human life span is PLENTY for achieving dreams, enjoyment, and personal betterment. instead of trying to extend life, these guys should be out there LIVING.

    and besides, as asimov said, our relatively short life-spans are a cause for collaboration, and you can't say that's not a good thing. a big part of human nature is the concept of legacy, evolving ourselves and passing down to the next generation. if we increase our life-spans, we just slow down the process.

    not to mention overpopu
    • Re:whiners (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Jugurtha ( 802448 )
      All of those issues are rediculous. They are not an issue when you take into account birth control, decrease in poverty due to future technologies, etc... Why have 10 kids if you are going to live for 1000+ years? The current human life span is way too short. A person would need 1000 lifetimes to really start to experience everything that life has to offer. The entire idea that people should accept death is nothing more than a rationalization in the face of the lack of ability to halt the aging process an
      • The current human life span is way too short.

        You know, I think nature would disagree with you there, and she's got far more experience with the subject than you.
        • I suppose you don't wear clothes and live in a cave too, then, as nature seems to disagree with us about the need for human invented conveniences. And what are you doing on Slashdot? After all, nature has far more experience with communication than you and I don't see "her" having invented anything like the internet.
  • by antifoidulus ( 807088 ) on Saturday August 27, 2005 @03:58AM (#13414073) Homepage Journal
    between humans? Esp. humans of different races? It seems to me that Asians(esp. East Asians) actually tend to age much less than caucasians. Japan especially tends to have a lot of very old people, I remember in 2003 the oldest person in the world was Japanese, they died, and then again the oldest person in the world was Japanese. In China, esp. rural China, you buy your own casket at age 60 or 70, but it's not uncommon for one to use it as a piece of furniture for 20 or 30 years!
    Even in very poor parts of Asia, such as Pakistan, centarians(sp?) are not nearly as rare as they are in the US and Europe. Is this due to the same gene? Is it due to diet/exercise? Or is it a combination of factors?
    • Small nitpick: there is a difference between aging and getting old. Maybe they just live longer, but are as 'wrinkled' at, say 80 as anyone else?
    • Diet & Lifestyle (Score:3, Insightful)

      by xeno-cat ( 147219 )
      I'll bet that the differences your mentioning have more to do with what people eat and how active they remain througout their lives and less to do with genetics. Asian's tend to have very clean diets compared to Eurpean and American fare.

      Rural people and particulary the rural poor tend to lead more active lives and eat food that is fresher, home made and healthier than the moderatly wealthy to obsenely rich.

      Kind regards
    • The oldest person ever was the (definitely Caucasian) Jeanne Calment [], who died a few years ago and apparently sold painting material to Vincent Van Gogh !

      When she passed away, the oldest living person in the world was a Canadian woman called Marie-Louise Meilleur.

      Should we deduce that French-speaking people "tend to age much less" than others ? ;)

  • The long-lived mice in the new experiments tend to be less fertile. And the gene may also predispose people to diabetes. The trick for researchers will be to find ways of getting the life-enhancing results of Klotho while avoiding the drawbacks

    You know, I don't see being less fertile as a drawback. If people want to get pregnant these days, they will. Another poster already mentioned a possible population boom.

    Don't even think along those lines. What you're saying is "this gene can make you live lon
  • In korea, old people no longer get old.

    (Sorry, I don't normally contribute to the perpetuation of Slashdot cliches, but nobody had posted this one. With good reason, I might add.)
  • The trick (Score:3, Insightful)

    by yppiz ( 574466 ) on Saturday August 27, 2005 @04:53AM (#13414190) Homepage
    The article summary says "The trick ... will be to find ways of getting the life-enhancing results of Klotho while avoiding the drawbacks"

    No, the trick will be finding whether what they did with the mice applied to humans. Suppressing the side effects they found in mice is nothing by comparison.

    While mice are similar in some ways to people, they are also rather different. What extends the life of lab mice might, in humans: a) have no effect, b) cause humans to sprout extra limbs, c) live longe and prosper, or d) none of the above.

    And it's going to take a long time before they can try these experiments on humans.


  • what i'm curious about is will we be younger longer or older longer? assuming the average lifespan of a human mean is 70, 50% more is 105. but honestly, age 70-105 isn't age that'll benefit society much. they've past their working age and can really only offer their wisdom at this point.

    i would rather prefer it extended our youth or extended our life equally at different parts. meaning i can technically feel like 50 at the age of 75 (50% increase again).

    would i really want to extend my life being old?
  • What's the big deal? Who cares if I can add one extra year to my life? Is this what passes for progress?
    • It's a 50% increase to the mouse lifespan. In humans with a life expectancy of 77 years that translates into an extension of thirty odd years.
  • To help Dick Clark from dieing a premature death?
  • lies and deception contribute to shorter life spans.
    those contributing to such are of course war mongers, as the machinery of war is itself anti-life in its inherent nature. Of course we have other anti-life machinery as well, such as many religions which promote disconnection with this world, and other excuses to say lies, deception and such are ok so long as you ask for forgiveness.

    The human mind is a rather powerful device, as what you think and believe has alot to do with how you interact with hard rea
  • "The long-lived mice in the new experiments tend to be less fertile. And the gene may also predispose people to diabetes. The trick for researchers will be to find ways of getting the life-enhancing results of Klotho while avoiding the drawbacks"

    I've had all the kids that I am going to have, and I already have diabetes. Just tell me how to stimulate the damned gene already!

  • Sounds a lot like that SG1 episode set in the future where the aliens gave them tons of technology and also doubled the human lifespan but make us all infertile.

    I bet these "scientists" are really those aliens.

    Better get my tinfoil hat.
  • by Lord Byron II ( 671689 ) on Saturday August 27, 2005 @09:39AM (#13414997)
    Take a look at [].

    Diseases of heart - Heart Attack
    Malignant neoplasms - Cancer
    Cerebrovascular diseases - Stroke
    Chronic lower respiratory diseases - Lung Disease
    Diabetes mellitus - Diabetes

    Now, heart attacks are caused almost exclusively bad poor diet (too much fat) and not enough exercise. Cancer has strong links with diet (too much fat) and exposure to chemicals. Strokes are "heart attacks of the brain" in that diet and exercise are major contributing factors here too. A good portion, but not all, cases of lung disease are induced or exacerbated by smoking. And (adult onset) diabetes has been linked to diets high in fats and sugars.

    So considering that 66% of male deaths and 63% of female deaths were caused by the above diseases, if you can eliminate the causes of those diseases, you're obviously going to increase your chances for a long and healthy life.

  • I don't see how loss of fertility is a drawback of increased lifespan... it seems to be a desireable side effect. Imagine the overpopulation nightmare otherwise.
  • It seems that this story has been misinterpreted. This therapy would not prevent aging (anti-aging) rather just prolong life.

    130 year old porn... no thanks!

  • maybe once they get boosterspice figured out, we can start working on ringworld.

Whenever people agree with me, I always think I must be wrong. - Oscar Wilde