The Gist of Science Reporter: May 2014

The Gist of Science Reporter: May 2014


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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