The discovery, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is part of a project funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Medical Research Council (MRC) and may shed light on the possibilities of alleviating ageing and age-related characteristics in human cells.
Planarian worms have amazed scientists with their apparently limitless ability to regenerate. Researchers have been studying their ability to replace aged or damaged tissues and cells in a bid to understand the mechanisms underlying their longevity.
Dr Aziz Aboobaker from the University's School of Biology, said: "We've been studying two types of planarian worms; those that reproduce sexually, like us, and those that reproduce asexually, simply dividing in two. Both appear to regenerate indefinitely by growing new muscles, skin, guts and even entire brains over and over again.
"Usually when stem cells divide — to heal wounds, or during reproduction or for growth — they start to show signs of ageing. This means that the stem cells are no longer able to divide and so become less able to replace exhausted specialised cells in the tissues of our bodies. Our ageing skin is perhaps the most visible example of this effect. Planarian worms and their stem cells are somehow able to avoid the ageing process and to keep their cells dividing."
One of the events associated with ageing cells is related to telomere length. In order to grow and function normally, cells in our bodies must keep dividing to replace cells that are worn out or damaged. During this division process, copies of the genetic material must pass on to the next generation of cells. The genetic information inside cells is arranged in twisted strands of DNA called chromosomes. At the end of these strands is a protective 'cap' called a telomere. Telomeres have been likened to the protective end of a shoelace which stops strands from fraying or sticking to other strands.
Each time a cell divides the protective telomere 'cap' gets shorter. When they get too short, the cell loses its ability to renew and divide. In an immortal animal we would therefore expect cells to be able to maintain telomere length indefinitely so that they can continue to replicate. Dr Aboobaker predicted that planarian worms actively maintain the ends of their chromosomes in adult stem cells, leading to theoretical immortality.
Dr Thomas Tan made some exciting discoveries for this paper as part of his PhD. He performed a series of challenging experiments to explain the worm's immortality. In collaboration with the rest of the team, he also went some way to understanding the clever molecular trick that enabled cells to go on dividing indefinitely without suffering from shortened chromosome ends.
Previous work, leading to the award of the 2009 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, had shown that telomeres could be maintained by the activity of an enzyme called telomerase. In most sexually reproducing organisms the enzyme is most active only during early development. So as we age, telomeres start to reduce in length.
This project identified a possible planarian version of the gene coding for this enzyme and turned down its activity. This resulted in reduced telomere length and proved it was the right gene. They were then able to confidently measure its activity and resulting telomere length and found that asexual worms dramatically increase the activity of this gene when they regenerate, allowing stem cells to maintain their telomeres as they divide to replace missing tissues.
Dr Tan pointed out the importance of the interdisciplinary expertise: "It was serendipitous to be sandwiched between Professor Edward Louis's yeast genetics lab and the Children's Brain Tumour Research Centre, both University of Nottingham research centres with expertise in telomere biology. Aziz and Ed kept demanding clearer proof and I feel we have been able to give a very satisfying answer."
However, what puzzled the team is that sexually reproducing planarian worms do not appear to maintain telomere length in the same way. The difference they observed between asexual and sexual animals was surprising, given that they both appear to have an indefinite regenerative capacity. The team believe that sexually reproductive worms will eventually show effects of telomere shortening, or that they are able to use another mechanism to maintain telomeres that would not involve the telomerase enzyme.
Dr Aboobaker concluded: "Asexual planarian worms demonstrate the potential to maintain telomere length during regeneration. Our data satisfy one of the predictions about what it would take for an animal to be potentially immortal and that it is possible for this scenario to evolve. The next goals for us are to understand the mechanisms in more detail and to understand more about how you evolve an immortal animal."
Professor Douglas Kell, BBSRC Chief Executive, said: "This exciting research contributes significantly to our fundamental understanding of some of the processes involved in ageing, and builds strong foundations for improving health and potentially longevity in other organisms, including humans."
Emma Thorne | EurekAlert!
A Varied Menu
25.03.2019 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau
Key evidence associating hydrophobicity with effective acid catalysis
25.03.2019 | Tokyo Metropolitan University
DESY and MPSD scientists create high-order harmonics from solids with controlled polarization states, taking advantage of both crystal symmetry and attosecond electronic dynamics. The newly demonstrated technique might find intriguing applications in petahertz electronics and for spectroscopic studies of novel quantum materials.
The nonlinear process of high-order harmonic generation (HHG) in gases is one of the cornerstones of attosecond science (an attosecond is a billionth of a...
Nano- and microtechnology are promising candidates not only for medical applications such as drug delivery but also for the creation of little robots or flexible integrated sensors. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) have created magnetic microparticles, with a newly developed method, that could pave the way for building micro-motors or guiding drugs in the human body to a target, like a tumor. The preparation of such structures as well as their remote-control can be regulated using magnetic fields and therefore can find application in an array of domains.
The magnetic properties of a material control how this material responds to the presence of a magnetic field. Iron oxide is the main component of rust but also...
Due to the special arrangement of its molecules, a new coating made of corn starch is able to repair small scratches by itself through heat: The cross-linking via ring-shaped molecules makes the material mobile, so that it compensates for the scratches and these disappear again.
Superficial micro-scratches on the car body or on other high-gloss surfaces are harmless, but annoying. Especially in the luxury segment such surfaces are...
The Potsdam Echelle Polarimetric and Spectroscopic Instrument (PEPSI) at the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) in Arizona released its first image of the surface magnetic field of another star. In a paper in the European journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, the PEPSI team presents a Zeeman- Doppler-Image of the surface of the magnetically active star II Pegasi.
A special technique allows astronomers to resolve the surfaces of faraway stars. Those are otherwise only seen as point sources, even in the largest telescopes...
Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, have proposed a way to create a completely new source of radiation. Ultra-intense light pulses consist of the motion of a single wave and can be described as a tsunami of light. The strong wave can be used to study interactions between matter and light in a unique way. Their research is now published in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.
"This source of radiation lets us look at reality through a new angle - it is like twisting a mirror and discovering something completely different," says...
11.03.2019 | Event News
01.03.2019 | Event News
28.02.2019 | Event News
25.03.2019 | Trade Fair News
25.03.2019 | Life Sciences
25.03.2019 | Information Technology