LOS ANGELES, Sept. 9 (Xinhua) -- Biologists in the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) announced Monday that they have identified a gene that can slow the aging process when activated.
Working with fruit flies, the researchers used the gene, called AMPK, to increase their lifespans by about 30 percent.
The report of the research, which was published in the Cell Reports journal, said the work could have important implications for delaying disease and aging in humans.
"We have shown that when we activate the gene in the intestine or the nervous system, we see the aging process is slowed beyond the organ system in which the gene is activated," said David Walker, an associate professor of integrative biology and physiology at UCLA.
Walker said that the findings are important because extending the healthy life of humans would presumably require protecting many of the body's organ systems from the ravages of aging.
AMPK is triggered when cellular energy levels are low. Humans have the gene, but it is not usually activated at high levels, said Walker.
The fruit fly is a good research model, because scientists have identified all of the insect's genes and can switch those genes on and off individually.
AMPK has been shown to activate a process of discarding old, damaged cellular components. That process, called autophagy, can prevent further damage to cells.
This research, led by doctoral student Matthew Ulgherait, found that triggering AMPK sped up the process of getting rid of "cellular garbage."
Many neurodegenerative diseases are associated with the buildup of protein aggregates, a type of cellular garbage, in the brain.
"Instead of studying the diseases of aging -- Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, cancer, stroke, cardiovascular disease, diabetes -- one by one, we believe it may be possible to intervene in the aging process and delay the onset of many of these diseases," Walker said.
"We are not there yet, and it could, of course, take many years, but that is our goal and we think it is realistic," he said.
"The ultimate aim of our research is to promote healthy aging in people," he said.