Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), say a gene implicated in Parkinson's disease could be the key to extending the human lifespan, according to a press release.

In a study published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers say they found that increased expression of the parkin gene in adult fruit flies increased both their average and maximum lifespans, and also delayed the onset of aging. The flies with boosted parkin levels lived 25 percent longer than the flies in the control group, while remaining healthy and productive.

"These findings reveal roles for Parkin in modulating organismal aging and provide insight into the molecular mechanisms linking aging to neurodegeneration," the researchers write.

Parkin is known to have at least two functions: it marks damaged proteins so they can be discarded before they become toxic to cells and it plays a role in getting rid of damaged mitochondria. Unfortunately, says the study's senior author, David Walker, this cellular disposal system slows down as people age, which can lead to disease and neurodegeneration. But what this study shows is that an increase in parkin levels gives the system a boost, which could delay the onset of age-related diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, as well as increasing lifespan.

The researchers found that too much parkin can also have a deleterious effect. When they gave the flies too much parkin, it started eliminating healthy proteins, and the flies died sooner than those in a control group.

The team doesn't yet know what level of parkin is ideal for humans, but they do believe that the fruit fly is a good model to study human aging.