Every single cell in our body contains hundreds of thousands of mitochondria which all carry mtDNA, which is their own small circular DNA genome. The products of these are essential for our energy production, but due to mtDNA’s limited repairing abilities, both normal and mutant versions of it can often be found in the same cell – this is known as heteroplasmy.
As we all age, the levels of our mutant mtDNA begin to increase, and as these levels reach a critical threshold, our cells start to become nonfunctional or die. It is the collection of these mutant mtDNA that is thought to be the main contributor to our ageing.
A Caltech professor of biology and biological engineering and study author Bruce Hay claimed that “the fact that mutant mtDNA accumulates in key tissues such as neurons and muscle that lose function as we age, suggests that if we could reduce the amount of mutant mtDNA, we could slow or reverse important aspects of ageing”.
In order to test this new theory of anti-ageing, Hay and his colleagues genetically engineered the common fruit fly, so that 75% of its mtDNA in the muscles required for flight underwent mutation in early adulthood.
The team then artificially increased the activity of the genes that promote the process of cells breaking down and removing dysfunctional mitochondria, known as mitophagy, which found that the fraction of the mutated mtDNA in the muscle cells was drastically reduced.
Hay concluded that “such a decrease would completely eliminate any metabolic defects in these cells, essentially restoring them to a more youthful, energy-producing state. The experiments serve as a clear demonstration that the level of mutant mtDNA can be reduced in cells by gently tweaking normal cellular processes.”
The process was also relevant for promoting the reduction of the gene parkin, which was reduced from 76% of the mutant mtDNA in forms of Parkinson’s disease to just 5%.
Hay continued to say that the team’s next step is to continue building on their research and searching for drugs that can achieve the same effects to decrease ageing in this way.
He concluded, “our goal is to create a future in which we can periodically undergo a cellular housecleaning to remove damaged mtDNA from the brain, muscle, and other tissues. This will help us maintain our intellectual abilities, mobility, and support healthy aging more generally”.
About The Author
Jess Murray is a wildlife filmmaker and conservation blogger, having recently returned from studying wildlife and conservation in South Africa, she is now striving to spread awareness about the truth behind faux conservation facilities throughout the world. You can follow Jess on Facebook Here
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