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Fluorescing lab worms signal longer life spans, reports CU-Boulder team

University of Colorado at Boulder scientists have used a fluorescent marker to predict the individual life spans of identical worms that were genetically engineered to illuminate stress levels, implying living organisms have "hidden physiological states" that dictate their ability to deal with the rigors of life.

According to CU-Boulder Research Associate Shane Rea, the genetically identical nematodes were engineered with a green fluorescent "reporter" protein coupled to a stress protein that is present in most multicellular organisms as a monitor of cellular health. The eyelash-sized, translucent worms that fluoresced the brightest after being subjected to high temperatures as young adults had significantly longer life expectancies than those that were less bright, the team reported.

"We have shown it's possible to predict the life span in an organism on the first day of adult life based on how it responds to stress," said CU-Boulder Professor Thomas Johnson. "This is something that has not been done before, and has implications for human longevity and health."

A paper on the subject by co-first authors Rea and Deqing Wu, in addition to James Cypser and Johnson of CU-Boulder's Institute for Behavioral Genetics and James Vaupel of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Germany was published in the July 17 advance online issue of Nature Genetics.

"We have engineered a single gene to monitor the health of an organism, which is a first," said Johnson. Funded in part by the National Institutes of Health, the effort began about eight years ago when Cypser, then a CU-Boulder graduate student, began testing a new idea of Johnson's in the university laboratory.

Most scientists believe the life span of humans and other living creatures is determined by a combination of genetic, environmental and chance factors. Twin studies in humans have suggested that genes are only about 15 percent to 30 percent responsible fo
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24-Jul-2005


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