Tuesday, March 5, 2024

A Protein for Longevity Does Not Necessarily Guarantee Health

Longevity-promoting genes usually help organisms deal with stress- but a gene that lengthens nematode worm’s lives and is necessary for reproduction also makes the worm more susceptible to infection and stress. 

Arjumand Ghazi, a geneticist who studies aging at the University of Pittsburgh, published her laboratories work regarding the TCER-1 protein in the Nature Communications in 2017. Ghazi and her colleagues had previously found that a gene called TCER-1 increases life span and is needed for Caenorhabditis elegans worms to produce eggs and healthy offspring. Ghazi and her colleagues expected that removing the gene would leave the worms prone to infections- but after deleting the gene the worms fought off bacterial infection for nearly twice as long as worms with an intact gene. This was so unusual and unexpected for the Ghazi laboratory, Francis Amrit, a molecular biologist in Ghahzi's lab said “when I first saw that, I thought I’d made a mistake.”  

protein microscopy

Additionally, Ghazi’s team found that worms with more of the TCER-1 protein than usual were able to overcome declines in fertility caused by exposure to a pathogen, but succumbed to infection faster. Which meant the results were indicating that the normally functioning gene helps suppress immune responses so more resources can be used for reproduction. Worms missing the TCEr-1 protein were also resistant to other types of environmental stress such as heat and radiation. These advantages however only continued as long as worms were of egg-laying age, as older Caenorhabditis elegans worms were equally susceptible to infection or stress regardless if they had the gene. 

Organisms balance survival and reproduction all the time, which can be seen when an animal under stress tends to stop reproducing until conditions improve. The TCER-1 protein works with other proteins to achieve the same type of survival-reproduction balance. The details of how the TCER-1 protein senses stress and regulated fertility, longevity and stress response are still unknown however. 

While humans have a version of this gene, related research is unlikely to affect human health anytime soon- however such findings could be warning bells for researchers developing anti aging therapies. As there seems to always be some sort of desire to get closer and closer to immortality, I find it interesting to see how genetic studies on aging evolve during my lifetime. Overall, this article was a good and interesting read- it is truly thought-provoking to wonder how this field of genetics will grow.




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