In a new study published in Cell, David Sinclair, who is a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, and his team described how they looked at a genome, which is called epigenome, in mice to study the ageing process.
Epigenetics “is the study of how your behaviours and environment can cause changes that affect the way your genes work,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The medical site also noted that while epigenetic changes can be reversed, “your DNA sequence does not change”. However, the way that your “body reads a DNA sequence” can change.
As noted by the Harvard Medical School, Sinclair and his team’s experiment included making cuts in the DNA of lab mice to mimic the “ongoing breaks in chromosomes” that animals’ cells experience daily, when responding “to things like breathing, exposure to sunlight and cosmic rays, and contact with certain chemicals”.
Results found that the mice ended up losing their “epigenetic function,” causing them to “look and act old”. However, scientists then reversed some of these changes that they saw in the mice through gene therapy.
“It’s like rebooting a malfunctioning computer,” Sinclair said. “[The therapy] set in motion an epigenetic program that led cells to restore the epigenetic information they had when they were young. It’s a permanent reset.”
Although it isn’t clear how the gene therapy helped reverse the ageing of mice, per Harvard Medical School, Sinclair said that his discovery still shows that mammalian cells can ultimately “reboot into a youthful, healthy state”.
During an interview withCNN, Sinclair, who is the co-directorof the Paul F Glenn Center for Biology of Aging Research, further explained how his work showed that the ageing process can move “forwards and backwards at will” .
He also noted how the findings challenged the scientific belief that damaged tissues in cells is what cause people to get older.
“It’s not junk, it’s not damage that causes us to get old,” he said. “We believe it’s a loss of information — a loss in the cell’s ability to read its original DNA so it forgets how to function — in much the same way an old computer may develop corrupted software. I call it the information theory of ageing.”
Sinclair went on to emphasise that the most “astonishing” find is that there’s “a backup copy of the software in the body that you can rest”.
“We’re showing why that software gets corrupted and how we can reboot the system by tapping into a reset switch that restores the cell’s ability to read the genome correctly again, as if it was young,” he said.
This isn’t the first study that has looked at how animals age. In a study published in the Science journal in June, researchers found that species of turtles and tortoises have found a way to slow down or even completely turn off the ageing process.
They also discovered that these animals’ protective traits, such as the hard shells of most turtle species, contribute to slower ageing. In some cases, these traits contributed to a lack of biological ageing.