The study, conducted on one of scientists' favourite model organisms - the fruit fly - found that reducing activity of the insulin/insulin-like growth factor (IIS) signalling pathway in fat tissue of adults extended life by up to 50 per cent.
Previously it has been shown that reducing the activity of the IIS pathway extends lifespan in fruit flies, mice and the worm C. elegans. But the cellular processes that determine longevity were not understood.
Results suggest the system that governs longevity evolved in a precursor of all three species and is likely to be conserved in humans.
Professor Linda Partridge of UCL's Department of Biology, and senior author of the study, says:
"Basically, we are learning that nearly everything in biology is highly conserved. For years biologists studying ageing were convinced that it just happened and there wouldn't be genes that controlled it - you just wore out. But it became apparent independent of weight or size, some animals live much longer than others.
"Researchers became intrigued that on average a mouse lives for two years, a canary for 13 and a bat for 50 yet these species are all around the same size and warm blooded. A tortoise lives for up to one hundred years, but humans live for only 75. This suggests there must be a genetic determinant of the rate of ageing and these regulatory mechanisms can be set differently in different species. All we have to do is crack the code to reset the clock and our research takes this a step closer."
The possibility of extending life span has preoccupied scientists for many years. Leading theories include the idea that eating less slows down the progressive damage
Contact: Judith H Moore
University College London