Manipulating genes to extend life may seem a futuristic notion, yet it has been within our reach for the past decade.
Research has shown that not only is it possible to alter age-damaged genes, but also upgrade healthy genes, in order to enhance Longevity. Scientists are looking to up-regulate genes that enhance Longevity, like the azot genes (which maintain cellular homeostasis by eliminating senescent cells) while down-regulating those that inhibit it.
Researchers at Brown University, for example, have discovered the Myc gene could be ‘switched off’ to extend mouse lifespan by 15%. Therapies of this kind hope that by attacking the problems at their source they will provide more effective and permanent Longevity solutions.
“These mice are incredibly normal, yet they are really long-lived,” said Brown University senior author John Sedivy. “The reason why we were struck by that is because in many other longevity models like caloric restriction or treatment with rapamycin, the animals live longer but they also have some health issues.”
Research is not just limited to the genes found within our own genome. Future enhancement could go as far as ‘borrowing’ genes from the code of other animals and copying them into our own. The Bowhead whale, for example, lives to reach nearly 200 years old and has at least 80 identified genes adapted towards maintaining long life.
Dr Alexei Maklakov of UEA’s School of Biological Sciences states that, “Genes that age us are programmed to make us grow and reproduce in early life, but when their function ‘runs-on’ unabated in later life it starts causing problems. If this is true, then we should be able to stay younger for longer by reducing high levels of gene signalling, or ‘shutting down’ these genes in later life.”
Gene manipulation is a highly controversial field. Its philosophy is that nature has left the human organism incomplete and in need of perfecting. Its intent is to permanently alter our genetic makeup. Researchers are very aware of the possible ramifications, with 29 countries having prohibited the genetic manipulation of human embryos.
Given the worldwide condemnation that exploded around Dr He Jiankui, the Chinese scientist who in 2018 genetically engineered two baby twins to have what he claimed was “enhanced HIV-resistance,” it is wise to be cautious around claims made by scientists about the potential for gene manipulation; they may, however, be right.