Mind and Body
Aging: 25 Genes Responsible for Extending Human Lifespan Identified
While increasingly sophisticated measures to prolong our lives are now within our reach, we rarely stop to think about the fact that our lives are already pretty long to begin with. We live as much as 50 years longer than some of our close ape relatives. But if that’s not enough to make you feel grateful for the extra time you’ve got on this Earth, a study released this year provided another one: We can thank 25 genes and an environmental change that occurred millions of years ago for our long, dramatic lives.
As he described in a Molecular Biology and Evolution paper in September, Arcadi Navarro, Ph.D., a research professor at Pompeu Fabra University’s Institute of Evolutionary Biology, delved deep into our family tree and divided it into two groups: apes with prolonged lifespans (humans included), and apes with shorter lifespans. In the 19,000 genes he analyzed among the two groups, the prolonged-lifespan group shared mutations in the same 25 genes. Navarro believes these mutations helped our ancestors extend their lifespans millions of years ago, when it became advantageous for them to do so.
This story is #7 on Inverse’s 25 Most Surprising Human Discoveries Made in 2018.
Navarro’s study is based on what he calls “lifespan evolution,” or the idea that an organism’s lifespan is influenced by the environment. For some species, that environment is harsh and deadly, and natural predators are a constant threat. In the game of evolution, it makes sense for these animals to reproduce early in life, before it’s all over.
But it’s in the best interest of other species, Navarro says, to take their sweet time to reach maturity and reproduce over the course of their lives. At some point, he believes that our human ancestors experienced some type of environmental change that moved us into this category.
“The human ancestor’s ecological conditions allowed for evolutionary increase in lifespan,” Navarro said to Inverse. “We can only speculate why, but it can only make sense that we moved into environments, or ecological conditions or groups that cooperated among themselves to escape starvation and predation, allowing us to invest in having longer childhoods.”
In his paper, Navarro also addressed whether we could use these findings to extend our lifespans these days. If we wanted to attempt to manipulate our genetic material to live longer, these genes would be somewhere to start. But he’s not hopeful that the results would be as dramatic as the ones that nature produced back in the day.
“The ability to manipulate the lifespan of a species in the lab is much smaller than that process that has already happened in nature,” Navarro. “In the laboratory, after decades and decades of research on mammals, we’ve only been able to extend lifespans perhaps 10, 20 percent. It’s absolutely a humbling fact.”
As 2018 winds down, Inverse is highlighting 25 surprising things we learned about humans this year. These stories told us weird stuff about our bodies and brains, uncovered insights into our social lives, and illuminated why we’re such complicated, wonderful, and weird animals. This story was #7. Read the original story here.