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Turning Back the Clock: Genetic Engineers Rewire Cells for an 82% Increase in Lifespan

May. 01, 2023.
2 min. read Interactions

Preventing cells from committing to a pre-destined path of decline and death (not by artificial states of “youth”) 

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Amara Angelica

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Amara Angelica is Senior Editor of Mindplex

Artist’s impression of cell aging oscillations (credit: Mindplex and Stable Diffusion)

A team of University of California San Diego (UCSD) researchers has developed a biosynthetic genetic “clock” that significantly extends cellular lifespan.

As described on April 27, 2023 in the journal Science, the researchers are using synthetic biology to engineer a solution that keeps cells from reaching their normal levels of deterioration associated with aging. Cells of yeast, plants, animals, and humans all contain gene regulatory circuits that are responsible for many physiological functions, including aging.

Rewiring gene circuits for an 82% increase in lifespan

The new synthetic biology achievement has the potential to reconfigure scientific approaches to age delay. The researchers genetically rewired the gene regulatory circuit that controls cell aging. This oscillator periodically switches the cell between two detrimental aged states, thereby preventing prolonged commitment to either one, and thus slowing cell degeneration.

Cell aging oscillations: A movie of an engineered cell that ages with oscillating abundance of a master aging regulator (credit: Hao Lab, UC San Diego)

The team used yeast cells in their study, achieving an 82% increase in lifespan compared to control cells. Instead of traditional chemical and genetic attempts to force cells into artificial states of “youth,” the new research provides evidence that slowing the ticks of the aging clock is possible by actively preventing cells from committing to a pre-destined path of decline and death.

“Our work represents a proof-of-concept example, demonstrating the successful application of synthetic biology to reprogram the cellular aging process,” the authors wrote, “and may lay the foundation for designing synthetic gene circuits to effectively promote longevity in more complex organisms.”

The team is currently expanding its research to the aging of diverse human cell types, including stem cells and neurons.

Citation: “Engineering longevity—design of a synthetic gene oscillator to slow cellular aging” by Zhen Zhou, Yuting Liu, Yushen Feng, Stephen Klepin, Lev S. Tsimring, Lorraine Pillus, Jeff Hasty and Nan Hao, 27 April 2023, Science. DOI: 10.1126/science.add7631

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