Epigenetics and Youth Span Extension€"Can It Really Expand Your Lifespan?
The science of youth span extension or anti-aging is a relatively new pursuit among scientists. It has only been since the late 1980s that scientists have even had an interest in studying longevity. Before this time, nobody even talked about epigenetics or living longer. Dying was accepted as the inevitability of life and not worthy of research.
The Opossum's Contribution to Science
It was the opossum that contributed to the interest in this field. Scientists noticed that opossums living on an island with no predators lived twice as long as their mainland counterparts.Â Even the opossums reproduction cycle increased while on that island. In essence, their environment had increased their lifespan and changed their genetic predisposition.
The science of epigenetics is the study of how the epigenome can turn our genes off or on. Where one opossum or even human is genetically predisposed to living a certain amount of years, their environment including diet and lifestyle can affect genes and ultimately change their lifespan and quality of life. Genetic predisposition no longer determines one's fate in life or even a premature death.
An interesting study that was done on yeast showed that when calorie restriction inadvertently starved out some yeast (the scientists had forgotten about a certain yeast sample), the yeast not only survived, but flourished. The yeast's lifespan was extended beyond expectation. This yeast was resistant to stress and starvation.
The Anti-Aging Gene
Scientists discovered a certain gene called the Sir2 gene had been mutated in the yeast and extended its lifespan. The more active this Sir2 gene was the slower the aging process and the longer the lifespan of the yeast.
At first, the world of science did not believe that aging could be genetically programmed. However, other studies done on worms, flies, and eventually mice supported this hypothesis and had major relevance to humans. The studies done on worms isolated its Sir-2.1 gene. Proving that by altering this gene, it could extend the aging process in these worms.
This anti-aging gene is not just a genetic regulator, it takes its queue epigenetically and metabolically by outside environmental influences such as calorie restriction. Genetically altering mice to be vulnerable to certain diseases like diabetes shows that if you put them on a calorie restricted diet, those diseases can be mitigated across the board.
Twenty years ago, it was thought that aging was associated with diseases like cancer and heart disease. Ten years later, aging was thought of as a risk factor for a lot of diseases. We now know that aging is the cause or one of the main causes of a lot of diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative diseases and diabetes. By prolonging lifespan, we could postpone disease and even death.
Theoretically, these studies show that we as people have the potential to age slower, stay young longer, and stay disease-free longer by changing our environment, diet, and lifestyle no matter what kind of genes we inherited from our parents. In essence, turning off our bad genes and encouraging the good ones and passing these epigenetic traits on to our children and even grandchildren.