Biologists have identified a gene, previously implicated in Parkinson’s disease, that can delay the onset of aging and extend the healthy life span of fruit flies. This research has important potential implications for aging and disease in humans. The gene, Parkin, serves at least two vital functions. By increasing Parkin activity, the scientists extended the lifespan of the flies by more than 25 percent.
This is very cool! One single gene can not only extend the lifespan of fruit flies, but also the “health span,” which, in my opinion, is just as cool—if not cooler. They were healthier and more fertile for longer periods of time. Additionally, the gene, called parkin, can prevent aging-related disorders like (you guessed it) Parkinson’s disease.
Personally, one of my greatest fears in life is losing my mind—that is, losing my memories as I get older, and losing my ability to recall the ups and downs, the joys and sorrows, that make me me. If you removed all the memories from my head, you’d be left with my basic personality but none of my developed characteristics that come from my experiences.
I saw my grandfather descend into dementia and Alzheimer’s after several strokes before he passed away when I was a teenager. While it was nice to have him in my life until almost the end of high school, he wasn’t really “in my life” the way that he himself might have said so. For the last several years of his life, he barely even recognized his own family and had very little idea what was going on. In many ways, this was harder to deal with than if he had died from his very first serious stroke.
Transporting this scenario to me, I would much rather have more years of healthy living, especially for mental capacity, than just living longer. What’s living an extra ten years if I don’t even know who I am any more?
The key to aging isn’t just living longer, it’s living better for longer. If we can achieve both by affecting simply one gene, imagine the benefits. That, to me, sounds like an incredible breakthrough.