New technique helps identify genes related to ageing

New technique helps identify genes related to ageing

Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a new method for determining which genes are relevant to the ageing process

The work was done in an animal species widely used as a model for genetic and biological research, but the finding has broader applications for research into the genetics of ageing.

Corresponding author of a paper on the work, Adriana San Miguel, is also an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at NC State.

She said: “There are a lot of genes out there that we still don’t know what they do, particularly in regard to ageing.

“That’s because this field faces a very specific technical challenge: by the time you know whether an organism is going to live for a long time, it’s old and no longer able to reproduce.

“But the techniques we use to study genes require us to work with animals that are capable of reproducing, so we can study the role of specific genes in subsequent generations.

“To expedite research in this field, we wanted to find a way of identifying genes that may be relevant to ageing while the organisms are still young enough to work with.”

See also: Overall disease burden of genetic risk factors estimated for the first time

genetic mutations

For this work, the researchers focused on a species of roundworm called C. elegans, which is one of the most important model species for research into genetics and ageing.

Specifically, the researchers focused on protein aggregation in cells, which is well established as being related to ageing.

Here’s how the new method for identifying genes that may be relevant to ageing works.

First, the researchers expose thousands of C. elegans to a chemical that induces random genetic mutations.

The researchers then use an autonomous, high-throughput system that allows them to identify which roundworms have high levels of protein aggregation in their cells without harming them, but while they’re still young enough to reproduce.

The roundworms that have higher levels of protein aggregation, which are expected to live for a shorter period of time, are then separated from the others using an automated, microfluidic system and observed to see how long they live.

Once the roundworms die, researchers have established protein aggregation and lifespan data for each of the roundworms.

The roundworms with the highest protein aggregation and the shortest lifespans can be prioritised for study, since there is an increased likelihood that their mutations affected their ageing.

Researchers can then sequence the DNA of these roundworms.

the genetics of ageing

San Miguel said: “Once we have the genomic data, we can identify the mutations in C. elegans.

“And the protein aggregation and lifespan data allow us to assess which mutations may be most relevant to ageing. This allows us to focus future research on those genes.”

In proof-of-concept testing, the researchers chose to do genome sequencing on the individual roundworm in their sample that had the highest level of protein aggregation.

They found that it had a mutation on a gene that was not previously identified as having any relationship to ageing.

San Miguel added: “The next step is to do additional research focusing on this gene.

“Is it playing a role in the ageing process? And, if so, what is that role?

“More importantly, we think the technique we’ve demonstrated in this paper can be used by others in the research community to help identify genes of interest and – hopefully – expedite research into the genetics of ageing.

“We’re very open to collaborating with other researchers who are interested in pursuing this line of work.”

The research is published in iScience.

Image: Researchers from NC State University have developed a new method for determining which genes are relevant to the ageing process. The work was done in C. elegans, an animal species widely used as a model for genetic and biological research, but the finding has broader applications for research into the genetics of ageing. This image is of the head of a C. elegans showing fluorescently labelled protein aggregates. © Adriana San Miguel.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Aether: Issue 3 Feb 2023

Aether: Issue 2 Nov 2022

Aether: Issue 1 Aug 2022

Subscribe for free

Latest Testimonial

What a beautiful motto: Discoveries must be read and not just published. When I was contacted by Aether as a new digital service to share scientific and technological insights I had my doubts that this was really going to be according to what I call the “open source & makers’ spirit”: knowledge should be free and it is there to be shared.

Well, Aether is faithful to its motto and shares discoveries freely. It has been a pleasure to collaborate for the interview and subsequent article. It has been greatly self satisfying to see how the interview was professionally and truthfully redacted and then published. Sharing thoughts and sparks for discussions is fundamental to the progress of society. Your journal offers clarity and brevity and I believe it provides the sparks to ignite any reader whether academic or not into action.

Dr Maria-Cristina Ciocci
Co-founder and Manager of non-profit organisation De Creative STEM,GirlsInSTEM