John on February 16, 2010 at 12:01 am
Turns out that old joke about getting old is scientifically true. It really is better than the alternative:
One of the biggest puzzles in biology â€“ how and why living cells age â€“ has been solved by an international team based at Newcastle University, in north-east England.
The Newcastle team, working with the University of Ulm in Germany, used a comprehensive “systems biology” approach, involving computer modelling and experiments with cell cultures and genetically modified mice, to investigate why cells become senescent. In this aged state, cells stop dividing and the tissues they make up show physical signs of deterioration, from wrinkling skin to a failing heart.
The research, published by the journal Molecular Systems Biology, shows that when an ageing cell detects serious damage to its DNA â€“ caused by the wear and tear of life â€“ it sends out specific internal signals.
These distress signals trigger the cell’s mitochondria, its tiny energy-producing power packs, to make oxidising “free radical” molecules, which in turn tell the cell either to destroy itself or to stop dividing. The aim is to avoid the damaged DNA that causes cancer.
It certainly sounds like the sort of breakthrough that could lead to longer, healthier lives down the line. That in itself is good news…
But I’m taken by the ironic, almost poetic nature of this discovery. In a real biological sense death, at least death on a cellular scale, is found to be oddly pro-life. Aging turns out to be a gradual battle against more catastrophic failure. It’s all very counter-intuitive and yet somehow not unpleasant to learn.
Category: Science & Tech |