Science - May 25, 2010

Nematologists unveil ageing process

Wageningen nematologists have uncovered the genetic basis of the ageing process in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. This will enable research into human ageing to be speeded up, expects researcher Jan Kammega.

The nematode C. elegans, a one-millimetre long worm, is a major model organism for genetic research. Many genes of this worm - its genome consists of twelve to thirteen thousand genes - can also be found in humans and have similar functions.
Wageningen nematologists used tens of different strains of C. elegans to determine the gene expression of young, as well as old, organisms. They found out that there was an almost fifty percent decrease in gene expression regulation in almost ten percent of the genes in the old worms. These genes play a role in building and restoring the body. They also found a small set of genes which in fact had an increase in gene regulation. These genes are involved in prolonging the life span of the nematode.

'Much was already known about the role of individual genes of C. elegans in ageing or degeneration', says Kammenga. 'We are, however, the first to throw light on the network of genes which are involved in ageing. This genetic network disintegrates. We have found new regulation factors responsible for the overall degeneration in life span.' Together with PhD student Ana ViƱuela-Rodriguez, postdoc Basten Snoek and analyst Joost Riksen, Kammenga published these findings on 20 May in the online edition of Genome Research.
Biomedical researchers can use these results to focus closer on the variation in gene expression in the elderly. 'We now know the gene sequences which regulate ageing', explains Kammenga. 'We can now look for this specifically in the genome of the human.' This might lead to new receptors for prevention and medication in the treatment of old age diseases.