London: After combing through 40,000 potential genes in three animal species, researchers have zeroed in on 30 genes which, if tweaked a bit, can get you eternal youth - without having to search for and drink that elusive elixir of life.
One of these genes proved to be particularly influential - the bcat-1 gene.
"When we blocked the effect of this gene, it significantly extended the mean lifespan of the nematode by up to 25 percent,” said Michael Ristow, professor of energy metabolism at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich).
Ristow has no doubt that the same mechanism occurs in humans.
"We looked only for the genes that are conserved in evolution and, therefore, exist in all organisms, including humans," he added.
The bcat-1 gene carries the code for the enzyme of the same name which degrades so-called branched-chain amino acids that naturally occurs in food protein building blocks.
When the researchers inhibited the gene activity of bcat-1, the branched-chain amino acids accumulated in the tissue, triggering a molecular signalling cascade that increased longevity in the nematodes.
Moreover, the timespan during which the worms remained healthy was extended.
"As a measure of vitality, the researchers measured the accumulation of ageing pigments, the speed at which the creatures moved, and how often the nematodes successfully reproduced. All of these parameters improved when the scientists inhibited the activity of the bcat-1 gene,” explained the study that involved researchers from JenAge consortium from Jena in Zurich.
In order to detect these genes, the researchers examined around 40,000 genes in the nematode C. elegans, zebra fish and mice.
The multiple branched-chain amino acids are already being used to treat liver damage and are also added to sport nutrition products.
"However, the point is not for people to grow even older, but rather to stay healthy for longer,” the authors noted.
The study, published in the journal Nature Communication, will deliver important indicators on how the ageing process could be influenced and how age-related diseases such as diabetes or high blood pressure could be prevented.