Humans have been on the hunt for the fountain of youth for years - dating back at least to the age of Cortes, and even seen now in the popularity of Botox. Now, researchers from the University of California, Berkeley believe that they may have found it. Most interestingly, the discovery - being touted as a possible "molecular fountain of youth" - has been in our bodies the entire time.
The biologists conducted a study on mice focusing on the chemical SIRT3. Found in the mitochondria, the chemical is responsible for the cell's life and death and has an important role in the way that blood cells deal with stress. According to some studies, the gene is activated in certain animals when calories are restricted, causing the species to live longer lives. Researchers decided to see what would happen if the gene that produces SIRT3 was deactivated.
Surprisingly, in young mice, nothing occurred. However, as time progressed, the effect of the deactivation became clear. In mice who lacked the gene, two-year-old mice - elderly, by mouse standards - had fewer stem blood cells and had less of an ability to regenerate new blood cells.
Then researchers tested whether boosting SIRT3 would have an impact as well. In the elderly mice, the researchers increased the levels of SIRT3. They found that the stem cells were rejuvenated and that the blood cells' production improved.
Researchers have a theory for the body's different reaction to the missing gene with age. At a young age, the body's stem cells function well and have little oxidative stress. However, that changes as we become older.
"When we get older, our system doesn't work as well, and we either generate more oxidative stress or we can't remove it as well, so levels build up," UC Berkeley assistant professor Danica Chen said in a statement. "Under this condition, our normal antioxidative system can't take care of us, so that's when we need SIRT3 to kick in to boost the antioxidant system. However, SIRT3 levels also drop with age, so over time, the system is overwhelmed."
Researchers are not sure whether overexpressing SIRT3 would help extend lifespan, but that is not their main goal anyway. They hope that studying the gene could help treat age-related illnesses.
The study was published in the journal Cell Reports.