The Gist of Science Reporter: May 2014
Turning Off ‘Aging Genes’ ()
TURNING OFF ‘AGING GENES’
Calorie restriction has been shown to prolong lifespan in
yeast, worms, flies, monkeys, and, in some studies, humans. Now Keren Yizhak, a
doctoral student at Tel Aviv University’s Blavatnik School of Computer Science,
and her colleagues have developed a computer algorithm that predicts which genes
can be “turned off” to create the same anti-aging effect as calorie restriction.
The fi ndings, reported in Nature Communications, could lead
to the development of new drugs to treat aging. Yizhak’s algorithm is the fi rst
to look for drug targets not to kill cells, but to transform them from a
diseased state into a healthy one. The algorithm, called a “metabolic
transformation algorithm,” or MTA, can take information about any two metabolic
states and predict the environmental ‘ or genetic changes required to go from
one state to the other. “Gene expression” is the measurement of the expression
level of individual genes in a cell, and genes can be “turned off” in various
ways to prevent them from being expressed in the cell.
Some of the genes that the MTA identified were already known
to extend the lifespan of yeast when turned off. Yizhak applied MTA to human
metabolic information. MTA was able to identify a set of genes that can
transform 40-to-70 percent of the differences between the old and young
information from four different studies. While currently there is no way to
verify the results in humans, many of these genes are known to extend lifespan
in yeast, worms, and mice.
One day, drugs could be developed to target genes in humans,
potentially allowing us to live longer. MTA could also be applied to finding
drugtargets for disorders where metabolism plays a role, including obesity,
diabetes, neurodegenerative disorders, and cancer.
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