Lifespan of fruit flies prolonged by selecting best cells in the body

Researchers have increased the lifespan of the common fruit fly by activating a gene repsonsible for eliminating unhealthy cells (Photo: Institute for Cell Biology, University of Bern)

Using a technique in which better cells in the body to be selected at the expense of more damaged ones, researchers at the University of Bern in Switzerland have managed to significantly increase the lifespan of the common fruit fly. Although most people would like to see flies living shorter, not longer lives, the development could have implications for increasing the lifespan of humans.

Due to the fact it breeds quickly, has a brief life cycle, has four pairs of chromosomes and is easy to care for, the common fruit fly, or Drosophila melanogaster, is a common inclusion in medical research labs around the globe. It has already had its lifespan extended in a number of ways, including activating a gene called AMPK and through the tweaking of a gene called PGC-1.

The latest of the fly's genes to get some attention is one the researchers dubbed ahuizotl (azot), after a mythological Aztec creature that selectively targeted fishing boats to protect the fish population of lakes. Similarly, the gene acts as a quality control mechanism that protects the health of organs, such as the brain and gut, by selectively targeting and eliminating less healthy or less fit cells that have accumulated random errors during aging.

While there are usually two copies of the azot gene in each cell, the researchers were able to further improve the efficiency of better cell selection by inserting a third copy. As a result, the researchers say the flies appeared to maintain better tissue health, aged slower and had median lifespans that were 50 to 60 percent longer than normal flies.

While this might be exciting news to anyone who keeps fruit flies as pets, the researchers say the research could also open up the possibility of developing an anti-aging mechanism for humans, as we also carry the gene.

The team's research appears in the journal Cell.

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