Long-lived worms and aging
Several investigators have generated long-lived nematode worms (Caenorhabditis elegans) in the past decade by mutation of genes in the organism in order to study the genetics of aging and longevity. Dozens of longevity assurance genes (LAG) that dramatically increase the longevity of this organism have been identified. All long-lived mutants of C. elegans are also resistant to environmental stress, such as high temperature, reactive oxygen species (ROS), and ultraviolet irradiation. Double mutations of some LAGS further extended life span up to 400%, providing more insight into cellular mechanisms that put limits on the life span of organisms. With the availability of the LAG mutants and the combined DNA microarray and RNAi technology, the understanding of actual biochemical processes that determine life span is within reach: the downstream signal transduction pathway may regulate life span by up-regulating pro-longevity genes such as those that encode antioxidant enzymes and/or stress-response proteins, and down-regulating specific life-shortening genes. Furthermore, longevity could be modified through chemical manipulation. Results from these studies further support the free radical theory of aging, suggest that the molecular mechanism of aging process may be shared in all organisms, and provide insight for therapeutic intervention in age-related diseases.