A group of German scientists may have finally cracked the code to slow down human aging. According to a new study published in Nature, researchers with the University of Cologne in Germany have discovered a breakthrough in gene transcription that could be the key to how aging works.
Further, this key may be malleable, allowing us to use certain processes to reverse the changes caused by gene transcription. This key is the process used by RNA to copy pieces of DNA. The researchers found that as humans age, this process speeds up and becomes less precise — more prone to errors.
One researcher involved in the new study, Dr. Andreas Beyer, told Euronews that previous studies have all focused on why humans age and which genes were being flipped on and off during the process. But, Beyer says nobody stopped to ask how the transcription process changes as we age — which could prove useful in slowing human aging.
Gene transcription is a foundational piece of the puzzle, Beyer and his colleagues believe. This process sees RNA copying DNA directly, and if it’s messing up that copy somehow, making it an imperfect copy full of errors, then it’s messing up vital genetic information needed to make the proteins in the body’s cells.
If an error-ridden slice of DNA is pumping out bad information, then the proteins are determining the overall health and function of the cells with flawed information. Think of proteins as the purpose driver for cells, and if they aren’t delivering flawless information, then they’re messing something up along the way.
It’s this flawed transcription that could be one of the key factors in slowing human aging. But how do you stop something like RNA from doing its job badly? Beyer and his team found that one way to do that might be tied to living off a low-calorie diet.
Previous research has already shown how your diet and how your body signals for insulin can affect how certain animals age, sometimes even slowing aging and extending the animal’s lifespan. Beyer and his team experimented on fruit flies, mice, and worms that they had genetically changed to inhibit insulin signaling.
The animals lived 10 to 20 percent longer than their non-mutant counterparts — mice that had been placed on a low-calorie diet. They also tested the research in human blood and found that it reacted similarly, the RNA slowing its transcription process and making fewer errors.
It’s possible this process could be changed to slow human aging and possibly even help prevent late-life diseases like cancer from manifesting because of the errors created in the transcription process. If nothing else, it will provide us a better understanding of the aging process, which could help us stop aging entirely.