Genetic Mutation May Govern Lifespan, Cancer

Ras2 gene

"We've reprogrammed the healthy life of an organism," said Valter Longo, a biologist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles who led the life-prolonging experiments.

A rare mutation seen in certain Ecuadorians may prevent cancer and extend lifespan. Scientist Dr. Valter Longo of USC has achieved a 1,000% increase in the lifespan of yeast by switching off a gene that controls growth and providing reduced nutrient intake to the yeast. In more complex organisms, it is believed that caloric restriction prompts the body to redirect energy from growth related activities to preservation of the DNA.

The effect is mimicked in certain individuals with one and two copies of the mutated RAS2 gene, who have small stature and other physical problems and may have abnormally large heads, but, Dr. Longo implies, have no known cases of cancer. If the physical complications introduced by the mutation could be managed, then a key to unlocking a vastly greater lifespan may be found.

This perspective supports the notion that aging is a genetic disease, necessary when organisms best chance for survival is fast growth and reproduction, but unnecessary when a hostile environment has been ameliorated.

The study will be published in the January issue of Plos Genetics.

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