Researchers prolong the life of a fly

Signal of change / Researchers prolong the life of a fly

By Anna Simpson / 14 Jan 2015

A paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Cell describes how researchers have extended the lifespan of a fly by 60%, using a gene activation technique that could be adapted to humans. The research team, led by Eduardo Moreno of the Institute of Cell Biology at the University of Bern, Switzerland, compared the genetic make-up of healthy and less healthy cells in organs of a fly. They identified a gene, named azot, that is activated to protect the less healthy cells. When the researchers activated copies of this gene, they found that flies appeared to maintain tissue health better, and therefore aged more slowly and lived for longer. "Our flies had median lifespans 50 to 60% longer than normal flies," said Christa Rhiner, one of the authors of the study. The researchers believe that the study could be adapted to humans – not just by activating the azot gene, but by selecting healthy cells in organs to prevent the degeneration of tissue. Image credit: Max Westby / Flickr

So what?

Life-extension research began formally in the 1970s with the establishment of the American Aging Association, an association of scientists devoted to sharing research on how to extend the human lifespan. Research areas have included hormone treatments, anti-ageing drugs, nanotechnology, cloning and body part replacement, and fooling genes. Gene activation has the potential both to extend lifespans, and to improve the quality of life.


Other factors, including medical care, diet and lifestyle, also affect life expectancy. In the US, the average has increased from 45 years in 1902 to 78.9 in 2015. For Japan and Singapore, it’s 84.6.


Longer lives mean more people on the planet, affecting the demand for resources. There could be an increase in the number of people claiming benefits, such as health care and pensions, and fewer people paying income taxes.


What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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