The Loh Down On Science

Can worms help us live longer?

Image courtesy of Rui Xiao et al., Cell, 2013.

Is the way to live longer . . . being cool?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, saying, not cool as in hip, but possibly downright cold!  

Scientists know cold-blooded animals live longer in cold environments, but they aren't sure exactly why.  One idea?  Chilly temperatures lower the rate of chemical reactions that lead to aging.    

But Shawn Xu and colleagues from the University of Michigan found more to the story: a genetic component.

In studying roundworms, the team found that colder air activates a receptor in the skin's nerve and fat cells.  The activated receptor then triggers a chain of events.  One that ends by turning on a gene linked to longevity.  Hello, longer life span! 

So what about us non-worms? Turns out, that signaling chain in worms also exists in humans.  So, if aging begins at least partly in the skin, embracing cold air might just mean embracing longer life.

Xu notes that the spice wasabi triggers the same gene.

Take home?  Move to the North Pole and eat only sushi.  You’ll live longer—and it’ll certainly seem longer.

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The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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