Spaced Out Worms – Clues To A Longer Life?

Life can be hard for a young nematode, even if you are one of the spaced out worms. They are frequently to be found on space missions, doing their best to go about their own wormy business in spite of strange surroundings, high G-forces and weightlessness, but these metazoans haven’t been seeking accolades or showing pride at being the first multicellular species to be genetically decoded.

In the current issue of Nature’s Scientific Reports, Honda et al report that their transgenic nematodes aged less when spaced out and zooming around the earth (1). The work is also the subject of a BBC report (2).

The team of scientists hatched a group of transgenic eggs and split them into two teams – one team were to get spaced out and the other to act as the control group. Note the transgenic bit was the addition of yellow fluorescent protein to act as a body-age indicator, and 40 days is a good old age for a nematode of the Caenorhabditis Elegans persuasion.

The experimental teams were busy doing their thing for 11 days and then they were peremptorily flash frozen – both in orbit and on terra firma. This allowed them to be stored and deconstructed at leisure.

Firstly, old worms have aggregates of a 35 molecule long polymer of the amino acid glutamine building up in their muscles. Our space team had less. But the second finding was at least as exciting after checking out their genes. Seven of them had been down regulated (suppressed) and these seven are intimately involved in life and death. So space travel had slowed the ageing process by changing the endocrine signaling.

Clearly the good news for the metazoan community is to line up for space patrol. For the rest of us simple creatures the outlook isn’t quite so good. We have things like bones that don’t do well in microgravity environs.


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