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Do we - really want to KNOW how long we'll live? We soon may

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 14th, 2014
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Do we want to know how long we're going to live? That answer may soon become a reality. Scientists have found a way to accurately predict lifespan in worms. These techniques may be used to predict how long humans have to live.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Looking at the bursts of activity in mitochondria, a part of the cell which generates its energy, is the key to the study, scientists say.

The recent findings suggest that an organism's lifespan is largely predictable in early adulthood. Meng-Qiu Dong, speaking at the National Institute of Biological Sciences in Beijing, China, added proteins to nematode worms that light up when they detect damaging in their mitochondria.

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Scientists think that a building up free radicals, caused when cells metabolize, is one of the factors that drives the ageing process.

Dong's team found that the number of "mitoflashes," caused by the presence of free radicals could predict its lifespan. According to current theories, age because cells accumulate free radical damage over time.

Free radicals are atoms or groups of atoms with an odd (unpaired) number of electrons and can be formed when oxygen interacts with certain molecules.

Mitochondria, which generate a cell's energy is believed to be particularly at risk because they produce free radicals in large quantities but lack the DNA repair mechanisms. The mitochondrial theory of ageing was first proposed in 1972 and remains widely contested in the scientific community.

The worms in these experiments usually live for around 21 days and are at their peak of reproductive fitness at three days old.

Worms with low mitoflash activity at that time lived longer, while those with high mitoflash activity died before day 21.

Researchers also found that worms carrying a genetic mutation known to extend life to 39 days exhibited fewer mitoflash bursts than genetically healthy worms.

The same pattern was seen when the team exposed the worms to short periods of starvation and heat shock.

"Mitochondrial flashes have an amazing power to predict the remaining lifespan in animals," study lead Meng-Qiu Dong, a geneticist who studies ageing in the Caenorhabditis elegans worm at the National Institute of Biological Sciences in Beijing, says.

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