Healthy aging is a process we thought we could somehow manipulate if we just ate right, exercised, and took good care of ourselves overall, but it might not be as much in our hands as we thought. It turns out that the aging process has a lot to do with our mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), and our mothers.
Scientists at the Spanish National Center for Cardiovascular Research partnered with others from the University of Zaragoza, the University of Santiago de Compostela, and the UK Medical Research Council and have discovered that the way we age could very well be determined before we’re even born.
Most human DNA is contained in the nucleus of our cells, but a small number of them are found in the mitochondria. The research group has learned that the combination and interaction of these two genomes found in our bodies can spark a cellular adaptation, which can impact our lives and determine how healthfully we age. They came to this discovery by swapping out and analyzing the mtDNA of two sets of lab mice that were otherwise identical in all other biological and environmental respects. One group was much healthier and had more vigor than the other group.
Nuclear DNA is given to us by both parents, but mitochondrial DNA is only passed on from our mothers. Simply manipulating mtDNA can have repercussions for healthy aging throughout a person’s life. Different variations of mtDNA and the positive potential this mixing and matching may provide is leading to an exciting frontier in aging and in learning how to manipulate the aging process.
Say you had mtDNA that, as a result of genetic mutation was malfunctioning. This could lead to disease, organ failure, or even death. You could take a donor’s DNA and replace the malfunctioning parts of that mtDNA to produce an embryo that is free of mitochondrial disease, which in a way, creates “three-parent babies.” That might sound like a science nightmare for some, but it’s a fascinating development for others and possibly a big step forward in controlling disease or maybe even extending the human lifespan.
If it’s done right, it could lead to healthy aging. So does that mean you can just run to the donut shop and not worry about it? It’s not quite that kind of a finding, so unfortunately, the answer is no. Let’s also keep in mind that more research needs to be done before anyone can declare that this approach will actually work in human beings.
Sources for Today’s Article:
Latorre-Pellicer, A., et al., “Mitochondrial and Nuclear DNA Matching Shapes Metabolism and Healthy Ageing,” Nature, July 2016; doi:10.1038/nature18618.