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Talks in this session:

  1. Sagi: Engineering a long-lived worm
  2. Suchanek: The germline and somatic reproductive tissues influence C. elegans
  3. Stanfel: Ribosome Function and Aging

Dror Sagi (Stanford; Kim lab) — Engineering a long-lived worm

If aging is an engineering problem, then we should be able to solve the engineering challenges more easily in simple systems.

By introducing genes from a long-lived organism into the genome of a short-lived organism, it should be possible to add pro-longevity functions – in effect “upgrading” the short-lived animal so that it lives longer. Sagi has set out to do just that, by transferring genes from the long-lived zebrafish (4-year lifespan) to the short-lived work (4-week lifespan).

The first gene he described was the UCP2 gene, the subject of an earlier talk. Expressing fish UCP2 in the worm lowers overall ATP, and extends worm lifespan. As an important control, expressing an additional copy of the worm UCP2 under the same promoter control does not extend life.

Likewise, fish lysozyme results in lower daf-16 activity, and also extends lifespan. The fish enzyme appears to act by decreasing the pathogenesis from E. coli, an unnatural food source for the worm that causes health problems in late life.

Overall, Sagi characterized 5 well-characterized longevity pathways, testing 16 genes and getting 7 hits.

The next obvious question: Can “upgrade” genes be combined to further increase lifespan? Indeed they can: several pairwise combinations of genes combined to extend lifespan longer than either single gene alone. At some point it worked a little to well: the lifespan of the worms started getting long enough that the survival curves became unwieldy.

  • Staying with the worm…

Monika Suchanek (UCSF; Kenyon lab) — The germline and somatic reproductive tissues influence C. elegans

Classically, it had been assumed that there is a tradeoff between lifespan and the number of progeny produced over the lifespan. We now know that this isn’t necessarily true; there are several examples of long-lived mutants that have a normal number of progeny (though the kinetics may be slower, which poses an issue with respect to fitness: if I live twice as long as you and have the same number of progeny but half as quickly, I will probably lose the evolutionary race).

Suchanek began by reviewing old data (like, from when I was a rotation student in the Kenyon lab: old) demonstrating that removal of the germ cells results in lifespan extension, but that this longevity enhancement requires the presence of the somatic gonad. This loss of the germline causes nuclear accumulation of the DAF-16/FOXO protein in the intestine. It is clear from several diverse pieces of data that the somatic gonad and germ line exert their effects on longevity somewhat independently.

Two other genes, daf-9 and daf-12 are required for the extended longevity of germline-deficient worms. DAF-9 is an enzyme that makes dafachronic acid, the ligand of a receptor encoded by DAF-12. Addition of dafachronic acid has no effect on lifespan of germ-cell-deficient, somatic-cell-competent cells, but it does extend the lifespan of animals that lack both germ cells and the somatic gonad.

How does the intestine know that the germ line is gone? To answer this question, Suchanek screened a “signaling sublibrary” of 1304 genes, and got 115 unique hits including several components of the Wnt pathway. Two components, mom-2 and wrm-1 (ß-catenin), are required for nuclear accumulation of DAF-16/FOXO and for the extended lifespan of germline-deficient worms. Suchanek favors a model in which germ line cells emit Wnt inhibitors.

  • Finishing on a strong note…

Monique Stanfel (Buck Institute; Kennedy lab) — Ribosome Function and Aging

The Kennedy lab is interested in identifying longevity/aging genes that are conserved in yeast and worm, and then testing these in the mouse.

In both yeast and worm, deletion/knockdown of many ribosomal proteins (RPs) can extend lifespan. In yeast, most if not all of the RPs with a role in lifespan are components of the large subunit (60S). In worm, knockdowns of both small and large subunit components can increase lifespan. Three of the genes conserved between worm and yeast can be knocked down in mice.

In order to characterize translation in mouse mutants, Stanfel ran polysome gradients on liver tissue. She analyzed the fractions in two ways, looking at both ribosome-associated RNAs and at the ribosome-associated proteins.

Surprisingly, the Rpl22 gene can be knocked out and has very little effect on global translation in the mouse liver. This may be because a homologous gene, Rpl22L (“-like”) is compensating for the loss of the major species.

Knockout of another gene, Rpl29, has a larger effect on global translation, decreasing the levels of 80S ribosomes. When fed a high-fat diet, Rpl29 knockouts were protected against weight gain, and their blood glucose also remained low; furthermore, the animals were leaner than wildtype. They also resist developing cardiac hypertrophy in another assay – thus, they meet all the preliminary criteria for the time and resource investment of a lifespan study.