Scientist Discover Plant DNA That Could Help Slow Down Aging In Humans

"This is a really big breakthrough..."

Scientists from Arizona State University and Texas A&M University say they've found the "missing link" between cell structure in single-celled organisms and humans that could unlock aging secrets.

The scientists, Dr. Julian Chen and Dr. Dorothy Shippen, "unraveled" telomerase, an enzyme that helps create the DNA of telomeres. Telomeres sit atop chromosomes and protect our cells from aging when they multiply.


"This is the first time that we have identified the detailed structure of the telomerase component from plants," Dr. Chen, a professor of biochemistry at Arizona State University, told CNN. "So in terms of fundamental research, this is a really big breakthrough because now finally we have a way to study telomerase in plants and to understand how different or similar they are from animals."

The aging process of telomeres illustrated.  Designua / Shutterstock

Their study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal and has set off speculation about the potential for humans. Elizabeth Blackburn, who won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her research into telomeres, said this new research "may pave the way to new routes to optimizing telomere maintenance for human health," according to CNN.

Chen was a bit less bullish, noting that the research was "basic" and its application to "humans is really a long way away." 

Still, this new research is a first step for scientists who are interested in slowing aging. Because telomeres work to preserve the DNA in cells when they divide, understanding how they work could be key to slowing cell division. That, in effect, could slow down people's aging process. While telomeres do not have eternal life, leveraging the telomerase enzyme could slow down aging — and potentially stop cancer in its tracks — if it's totally understood.

"Understanding the regulation and limitation of the telomerase enzyme holds the promise of reversing telomere shortening and cellular aging with the potential to extend human life span and improve the health and wellness of elderly individuals," Arizona State University said on its website


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