Did you know that human DNA contains something quite intriguing, dubbed TEs (transposable elements)? Don’t worry if you don’t understand. Those are only some sequences that have the ability to reposition themselves or “jump” from one part of the genome to another. So, in what seems to be a bold experiment, a team of researchers from Eotvos Loránd University in Hungary intended to investigate whether or not the mechanism of aging in Caenorhabditis elegans worms might be altered in any manner. How did they do that?! By converting a series of chemical events known as the Piwi-piRNA pathway, they succeeded in getting some impressive data. The Piwi-piRNA pathway had previously been discovered as playing a role in the regulation of TEs, and its existence had been proven.
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In order for us to have better lives for a more extended period of time and to live longer, scientists are continuing their efforts to solve the mysteries of aging. Now, thanks to this recent study, we know that so-called ‘jumping genes’ play an essential part in how our bodies age. And here’s the thing: if DNA serves as a biological pattern for our bodies, then TEs are pieces of this blueprint that can move about inside the genome. This is an inherent mechanism that occurs in humans and other animals, but it may cause issues if it’s not managed correctly.
Therefore, realistically speaking, the worms lived substantially longer when TE activity was lowered by means of Piwi-piRNA, which suggests that part of the reason why human bodies age is due to the method by which these jumping genes migrate along in the DNA genome.
This opens the door to a myriad of potential applications in the world of medicine and biology. In our lifespan assays, by merely downregulating TEs or somatically overexpressing the Piwi-piRNA pathway elements, we observed a statistically significant lifespan advantage, explains Ádám Sturm, a molecular geneticist from Eötvös Loránd University.
The researchers also detected a spike in DNA N6-adenine methylation inside TE segments as the worms aged. This is a form of change in gene activity that increases TE activity. Because of this, the researchers concluded that TEs get busier as humans age. Who knows what the next discovery regarding aging made by researchers will be?!
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