Genes Link Diet and aging
January 28, 2014

Scientists Find Genetic Mechanism Linking Aging To Specific Diets

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

It seems like every other commercial on TV today is another diet company, with yet another diet plan. You probably know someone who has tried everything from the Paleo Diet, to gluten-free, to the Atkins Diet. The big question is, which diet is right? A new study published in Cell Metabolism reveals they might all be right.

University of Southern California scientists Sean Curran and Shanshan Pang have identified a collection of genes that allow an organism to adapt to different diets. The findings show that without these genes, even minor changes to diet can cause premature aging and death.

The researchers said that finding a genetic basis for dietary needs suggests that different individual organisms might be genetically predisposed to require different diets. Our current technology, with commercial gene sequencing, might allow people to identify which diet would work best for them through a simple blood test.

"These studies have revealed that single gene mutations can alter the ability of an organism to utilize a specific diet. In humans, small differences in a person's genetic makeup that change how well these genes function, could explain why certain diets work for some but not others," said Curran, assistant professor with joint appointments in the USC Davis School of Gerontology, the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, and the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Caenorhabditis elegans—a one-millimeter-long worm that scientists have used as a model organism since the 1970s—were examined by the researchers. Decades of prior research has shown that C. elegans genes are likely to be mirrored in humans, and the short lifespan of the worm allows scientists to conduct aging studies.

The current findings identified a gene, called alh-6, which delayed the effects of aging depending on the type of diet the worm was fed. The gene protected the worm against diet-induced mitochondrial defects.

"This gene is remarkably well-conserved from single celled yeast all the way up to mammals, which suggests that what we have learned in the worm could translate to a better understanding of the factors that alter diet success in humans," Curran said.

Identifying the causes of dietary success or failure, and whether these factors explain why specific diets don't work for everyone, will be the focus of future research. Curran said this could lead to personalized dieting based on an individual's genetic makeup.

"We hope to uncover ways to enhance the use of any dietary program and perhaps even figure out ways of overriding the system(s) that prevent the use of one diet in certain individuals," he said.