Scientists have just unearthed a vital clue about what really causes aging, discovering an imbalance that makes aging cells progressively less functional as time passes.
The new study found that an imbalance of long and short genes developed in every cell in the body as it aged and that it could be one of the prime reasons for aging.
The findings were revealed in a study conducted by researchers from Northwestern University, who studied animals like mice, rats, killifish, and even humans to show a gradual imbalance of long and short genes. The researchers analyzed transcriptomic data from multiple studies.
Nature.com defines a transcriptome as the full range of messenger RNA, or mRNA, molecules expressed by an organism. The term “transcriptome” can also be used to describe the array of mRNA transcripts produced in a particular cell or tissue type.
The scientist said their study showed how transcript length alone explained most transcriptional changes observed with aging in mice and humans.
They added that the research revealed there weren’t specific genes that controlled aging. “Instead, old age seems to be governed by systems-level changes with complex effects. And this can impact thousands of different genes and their respective proteins,” Science Alert reported.
“We have been primarily focusing on a small number of genes, thinking that a few genes would explain disease,” Northwestern University data scientist Luís Amaral told Science Alert.
“So, maybe we were not focused on the right thing before. Now that we have this new understanding, it’s like having a new instrument. It’s like Galileo with a telescope, looking at space. Looking at gene activity through this new lens will enable us to see biological phenomena differently,” he added.
In younger animals, the long and short genes are generally in balance, but as the body grows older, short genes become more dominant.
The authors concluded that aging could not be boiled down to a single origin of transcriptome imbalance, but was a result of “multiple environmental and internal conditions” that probably led to short genes becoming more active in the body.
Human beings have always been fixated on staying young and beautiful, physically at least, and this eternal pursuit of juvenility has given rise to multi-billion-dollar industries that market anti-aging products and medicines to consumers. Yet all of these solutions do nothing to stop or even slow down a process that is all but natural.
Studies like these are, therefore, groundbreaking in the sense that they help understand the cellular changes that lead to aging and maybe help scientists improve existing medication and treatments to help people stay younger, and more importantly, healthier, for longer.
The researchers believe that understanding the “direction of causality between other age-dependent cellular and transcriptomic changes and length-associated transcriptome imbalance could open novel research directions for anti-aging interventions”.
More research and greater insights are expected to follow the Northwestern University study as scientists delve deeper into the science behind aging. If progress in the field continues, science may soon be able to develop cellular responses to not only aging but also several other diseases. And that is why this research makes so much sense.