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Scientists at the University of Connecticut Health Center recently stumbled into a major genetic breakthrough. While inserting genetic fragments into fruit flies, they accidentally prolonged the flies' lives.
After a second look, they realized that they had discovered a genetic mutation scientists searched for nearly a century to find. The gene, which researchers have comically named INDY for I'm Not Dead Yet, increases the life of fruit flies to 71 days instead of their normal 31-day lifespan. Plus, they noted the flies continued a normal, healthy life.
The gene that was altered is directly involved with metabolism. It makes it slightly more difficult for flies to use the calories in their food.
The caloric association to a longer life is nothing new to scientists. They have been experimenting with caloric restriction in yeast, flies, worms, and rodents for years and found that is usually does prolong life. However, this option is not appropriate for humans because few people would be willing to eat up to 40% fewer calories to live longer.
Restricting calories decreases estrogen and testosterone production, increases stress hormones and stress-related proteins, and slows the rate of cell turnover.
Scientists have extended fruit flies' lives before, but at a cost. One mutation was called grandchildless because it created females with no ovaries, but let them live 50% longer. A different mutation was called Methuselah. Flies lived 35% longer, but no one knows the genetic mutation that caused the change.
This newest discovery, however, has been pin pointed to a specific gene. The gene is responsible for making a protein that helps move nutrients into cells. They inadvertently have created a genetic mutation that restricts calories.
Doctors have said this discovery may help humans in the future, but it will be many years until researchers understand long-term affects.
Information from www.nytimes.com