By Luke Kristopher Davis
Matthew Ulgherait, David Walker and their UCLA colleagues have found a way to prolong the life of fruit flies by activating a gene, AMPK, within the nervous system. They activated the gene in the intestine of the fruit flies which increased a process known as autophagy within the intestine and the brain. This prolonged the lives of the flies against a control group by 30%.
What is autophagy?
Autophagy is the basic catabolic and cellular process which degrades and recycles broken or dysfunctional cellular components via the 'breaking down mechanisms' within lysosomes.
The cellular 'junk' is isolated by a double walled membrane and ends up in a waste package known as an autophagosome. The lysosome, which can be thought of as the 'junk' grinder, docks then enters the autophagosome and begins to breakdown the cellular 'junk'.
This process is important for cellular health as the continual recycling of dysfunctional proteins etc. will help keep the cell thus the organism healthier and more efficient at surviving.
What does this mean for humans?
Well AMPK is present within the human genome albeit at lower concentration levels than in the fruit fly. This experiment hints at the same process being used in humans i.e. activating the gene AMPK in the intestine, which could be digested through a pill, which will then increase autophagy throughout the body.
The team at UCLA state that human applications of this experiment won't be around for some years, however their success in this experiment breeds hope for the longevity of human beings.