The findings raise the question of whether genetic variations in specific proteins in humans may protect some people from age associated diseases, while placing others at heightened risk of cancer.
In the study, which received funding from the UK's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), researchers genetically removed checkpoint proteins in the nematode worm, C.elegans, which resulted in a 15 to 30 per cent increase in the lifespan of the worms.
Previously it was thought that checkpoint proteins were only functional in dividing cells, but this new research suggests they have a dual function, also being active in cells that no longer divide.
Gordon Lithgow, Associate Professor at the Buck Institute, explained: "We know that ageing is a huge risk factor in cancer, and although we know the role these proteins plays in preventing cancer or encouraging it if the proteins are not working properly - we did not imagine that this checkpoint protein would be involved in determining lifespan."
The team of international researchers, including scientists from Denmark and India, discovered the dual role of the checkpoint proteins while screening the worms for genes that determine stress resistance and longevity in cells.
Professor Lithgow said: "We have known for a long time that checkpoint proteins can influence the development of cancer, now we know they can influence longevity too. This discovery has exciting potential as an area of inquiry into a possible cellular link between ageing and cance
Contact: Matt Goode
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council