Dirk Bohmann, Ph.D., and Henri Jasper, Ph.D., are focusing on a cell signaling system that responds to stress and works in tandem with the insulin receptor that is central to diabetes. They recently received $2.5 million from the National Institutes of Health to conduct the next phase of their studies.
Why spend such funds on a fly that lives 40 percent longer than the average fly? Because of its promise for human health. New findings on aging, diabetes, and stress converge on the fly the team created. Later this month Bohmann will discuss the fly's implications for aging and health at a symposium in Sweden sponsored by the Wenner-Gren Foundations and also at the exclusive International Workshop on the Molecular and Developmental Biology of Drosophila, sponsored by the European Molecular Biology Organization, in Crete.
Bohmann and Jasper showed in 2003 that boosting the amount of a molecular signal known as JNK in a fruit fly allows the fly to live 85 days instead of 60, by spurring the fly to defend itself more aggressively against the oxidative stress that accelerates with aging. Such stress comes from the same chemical process that makes cars rust in the Rochester winter: Free-wheeling molecules known as free radicals zing through materials and run roughshod over anything in their way, including vital proteins and DNA. It's a major reason why generally our bodies falter as we age we're literally dinged to death by free radicals.