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Garbage man gene could prolong life spans, discoverers say

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A team of researchers in the United States has discovered that higher levels of a gene called parkin extend the life span and maintain health in fruit flies.

On Monday, the researchers said that a gene, which behaves like a garbage man by disposing of damaged materials in cells, had increased the life spans of fruit flies and may open new windows in dealing with human aging.

The study, which was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that higher levels of the gene helped fruit flies live 28 percent longer and remain healthy.

“Just by increasing the levels of parkin, they live substantially longer while remaining healthy, active and fertile,” said lead author Anil Rana, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“That is what we want to achieve in aging research — not only to increase their life span but to increase their health span as well,” Rana added.

Parkin is believed to be influential in removing damaged mitochondria from the cells.

Further study may show whether the human lifespan can be extended from higher levels of parkin, which marks damaged proteins so that cells can discard them before they become toxic.

“Our research may be telling us that parkin could be an important therapeutic target for neurodegenerative diseases and perhaps other diseases of aging,” said senior author David Walker, an associate professor of integrative biology and physiology at UCLA.

It has been hypothesized that parkin plays a role in the development of Parkinson’s disease, which typically develops in older adults.

“Instead of studying the diseases of aging one by one, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, stroke, cardiovascular disease, diabetes — we believe it may be possible to intervene in the aging process and delay the onset of many of these diseases,” Walker added.

“We are not there yet, and it can, of course, take many years, but that is our goal,” he stated.


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