Aging has become big business both in commerce and in science with the advent of the baby boomer wave. So many smart people getting old at the same time has resulted in a lot of focus on that process.
Here’s a fascinating study talking about how cells age. What happens, it says, is that you see a big increase in the frequency with which different genes behave out-of-synch (in cells where they’re supposed to act in concert).
One explanation could be that “a gradual accumulation of random DNA alterations, also termed ‘mutations’ begin to interfere with transcription, i.e., the process that generates the message from each gene that contains the instructions to make a protein…mutations that cause for example, a loss of functional gene copies or the inactivation of DNA stretches that serve to control gene activity.”
The experimenters used hydrogen peroxide, a known free radical-generating agent that damages DNA, to see if they could “artificially” age mouse embryo cells. Turns out it did look a lot like what happens to its heart when a mouse gets old.
So does this mean we’re on the path to discovering how to reverse the part of aging we haven’t so far been able to do anything about? Maybe. But I don’t know if nature isn’t just going to have to reveal another secret, and then another, and another about how we age…maybe because we simply aren’t meant to live in these bodies for too long. But who knows? Who would have believed a hundred years ago what we know about stem cells today?