A team of scientists at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), has discovered a way to potentially slow down the aging process by up to 82%.
The pioneering method, which was found to work in yeast cells, requires genetically rewiring a circuit to allow the cells to continuously oscillate between two deteriorative processes instead of succumbing to either.
The result is an increased cellular lifespan through a delay in the commitment to aging.
Molecular biology professor Nan Hao, senior author of the study, described the circuit responsible for aging as a “toggle switch” that triggers the cells’ progression toward death.
“This is the first time computationally guided synthetic biology and engineering principles were used to rationally redesign gene circuits and reprogram the aging process to effectively promote longevity,” Hao said in a statement.
The team has focused on developing such an oscillator for years. The concept became an “executable idea” in 2020 after they mapped the two deteriorative processes in yeast cells that occur in the nucleus, which houses the DNA, and mitochondria, which serves as the cell’s powerhouse.
Hao believes the process can eventually be replicated to apply to humans.
“I don’t see why it cannot be applied to more complex organisms,” he told Motherboard. “If it is to be introduced to humans, then it will be a certain form of gene therapy. Of course it is still a long way ahead and the major concerns are on ethics and safety.”
If maintaining oscillations promotes balance in the cell (cellular homeostasis) and longevity at a universal scale, periodic pharmacological and nutritional interventions with optimal timing may also be developed, Hao said.
In a commentary, Howard Salis, an associate professor of biological and chemical engineering at Penn State University, said human cells contain similar — albeit more complex — age-committing genetic circuitry, making the same method of rewiring a possibility.
“There are many cellular pathways in yeast cells that are widely conserved and appear in human cells as well,” Salis said, as per Newsweek. “Human cells do have more pathways with more interlocking feedback loops. But, importantly, the same/similar techniques can be applied to study and modify pathways in both organisms.”
The recent study, titled “Engineering longevity — design of a synthetic gene oscillator to slow cellular aging,” was published in the journal Science last week. Aside from Hao, the research team includes Zhen Zhou, Yuting Liu, Yushen Feng, Stephen Klepin, Lev Tsimring, Lorraine Pillus and Jeff Hasty.