Newly Discovered Cluster of Genes Increases Longevity

Dna Genetics Breakthrough Concept

It is amazing that the research was based on such a large sample of animals, numbering in thousands.

The NIA Interventions Testing Program was a collaboration between UT Health San Antonio and counterparts in Switzerland, Tennessee, and other countries.

The National Institute on Aging’s Interventions Testing Program has revealed that many candidate genes have been identified. The three Interventions Testing Program sites—The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and The Jackson Laboratory at Bar Harbor, Maine—collaborated with Johan Auwerx’s lab at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Lausanne, Switzerland, and Robert W. Williams’ lab at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center at Memphis.

Randy Strong

John R. (Randy), Strong, Ph.D. Credit to University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio

“Some candidate genes impacted female life span while others affected the male life span,” said Randy Strong, PhD, of the Sam and Ann Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies at UT Health San Antonio. “One cluster of genes increased longevity of both sexes. In a rarity for these types of studies, the findings were made in a population of mice with genetic diversity comparable to human populations.”

The results were recently published in the prestigious journal Science. Strong is the site director for the Barshop Institute’s Interventions Testing Program, which received its first National Institute on Aging (NIA) grant funding for the program in 2003 and is now in its 19th year of NIA support.

A genetic smorgasbord

“The study models what happens in people,” said research coauthor James Nelson, Ph.D., of the Barshop Institute. “Unlike mice in many other studies, mice in this newly reported research are not all the same. Each has different genetic variants, resulting in slightly different proteins that do slightly different things, which together can impact aging.”

Even small differences can have a major impact on our health as we age. The hemoglobin protein in red blood cells, for instance, may become less efficient at binding to oxygen and carrying it from the lungs to the body’s tissues as a result of slight variations in the hemoglobin gene, according to Nelson. Anemia is one example.

Female longevity

Strong stated that it was important to discover genetic loci that affect longevity only in females. A genetic loci is a group of genes that contains between 10 and 100 genes.

James Nelson

James F. Nelson Ph.D. Credit to University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio

“Females and males differ in almost every aspect of aging you can explore,” Strong said. “They each must be studied, both to understand aging in the two sexes and to develop effective treatments. If we offer the same drug therapies to females that we offer to males, and females’ aging is caused by different genes, we are not going to be as effective in our treatments.”

Confirmation in roundworms

Next, the team will examine these candidate genes in order to identify those that can increase longevity. The team described this in the Science article’s final section. Because of their short lives span, roundworms are commonly used in aging research. “A number of the candidate genes did affect longevity in the worms,” Nelson said.

That doesn’t prove that those same genes in humans are going to affect human life span, the researchers said. But it’s another part of the case for continuing to study the genetic basis of longevity.

Powerful study design

Strong explained that the three locations at which studies are performed, as was planned when the Interventions Testing Program started, provides statistical power, rigor and reproducibility for findings.

The authors claim that the study is unique because it uses a large number of animals, some of which are several thousand. “It is among the largest number of mice of any study that has attempted to identify genes that influence life span,” Nelson said.

Reference: “Sex- and age-dependent genetics of longevity in a heterogeneous mouse population” by Maroun Bou Sleiman, Suheeta Roy, Arwen W. Gao, Marie C. Sadler, Giacomo V. G. von Alvensleben, Hao Li, Saunak Sen, David E. Harrison, James F. Nelson, Randy Strong, Richard A. Miller, Zoltán Kutalik, Robert W. Williams and Johan Auwerx, 30 September 2022, Science.
DOI: 10.1126/science.abo3191

The National Institute on Aging funded the study. 

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Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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