New York: In a major breakthrough, researchers have identified a gene that can slow the ageing process throughout the entire body when activated in key organ systems.
Working with fruit flies, the scientists activated a gene called AMPK that is a energy sensor in cells; it gets activated when cellular energy levels are low.
"Humans have AMPK, but it is usually not activated," said senior study author David Walker, an associate professor from the UCLA University of California, Los Angeles in the US.
"The research could have important implications for delaying ageing and decreasing diseases in humans," Walker added.
Increasing the amount of AMPK in fruit flies' intestines increased their lifespans by about 30 percent - to roughly eight weeks from the typical six - and the flies stayed healthier for a longer duration as well.
"We have shown that when we activate the gene in the intestine or the nervous system, we see the ageing process is slowed beyond the organ system in which the gene is activated," Walker said.
Extending the healthy life of humans would presumably require protecting many of the body's organ systems from the ravages of ageing - but delivering anti-ageing treatments to the brain or other key organs could prove technically difficult.
Activating AMPK in a more accessible organ such as the intestine could ultimately slow the ageing process throughout the entire body, including the brain, the study suggested.
For the study, the researchers studied the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaste and focused on a cellular process such as Autophagy, which enables cells to discard old, damaged cellular components.
The researchers found that activating AMPK in the flies led to autophagy occurring at a greater rate than usual.
The study appeared in the journal Cell Reports.