A team of researchers from the Germany-based Institute of Molecular Biology (IMB) in Mainz have authored a new study titled "Neuronal inhibition of the autophagy nucleation complex extends lifespan in post-reproductive C. elegans," which has made a significant dent in our concept of not the definition, but rather the origin, of the process of aging. The findings of the report were published in the Genes & Development journal.
Evolution has done a great deal in terms of explaining the survival and production of species based on the theory that we become better suited to certain environmental threats over time. However, it falls short in explaining the inevitability of the aging process. Co-lead author Jonathon Byrne elaborates: "The evolutionary theory of ageing just explains everything so nicely but it lacked real evidence that it was happening in nature. Evolution becomes blind to the effects of mutations that promote ageing as long as those effects only kick in after reproduction has started." Really, ageing is an evolutionary oversight."
Ageing is a fact we all take for granted—it is even part of a fundamental religious concept known as the 4 noble truths of suffering (birth, aging, sickness and death). What if, however, aging were an unnecessary process, or a process which we could control, modify, or adapt? To understand this process, it was important for the scientists to understand the correlation between genes belonging to autophagy, which is essentially cell degradation, and their positive effects on the worms in the study at younger ages, and contribution to aging in later stages of life. These genes were effectively identified.
Most significant was that through the process of effectively stopping these genes at the start of the process of autophagy in older worms, they observed that they were able to live longer. An improvement in neuronal and overall body health was observed. Dr. Holger Richly, principal investigator of the study, outlines the significance of the results: "This could force us to rethink our ideas about one of the most fundamental processes that exist in a cell...In young worms, autophagy is working properly and is essential to reach maturity but after reproduction, it starts to malfunction causing the worms to age."
A Pause in Neurodegenerative Diseases?
Though some would read this study and think of anti-aging techniques, cosmetic surgery alternatives or even vanishing wrinkles, the true strength of this breakthrough research study applies to a completely different area related to aging: neurodegenerative diseases. The three main illnesses identified—Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s disease—which have been named in other related studies, all elements of defects in maturing of autophagosomes, cellular structures involved in the process of autophagy.
With this new research, scientists are opening new horizons in evolutionary studies, breathing new life into old theories, and taking some of the mythology away from the word aging.