Researcher tests the lifespan of C. elegans to understand how the brain dictates age | 3/22/2016 | Staff
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The key to living a long life is a lot less glamorous than sipping from the Fountain of Youth. Stress, starvation, and other hostile living conditions are actually the secret ingredients for longer lifespans—at least when it comes to worms.

This might seem contrary to conventional wisdom, but scientists have known for years that things like limited food supplies and unfavorable temperatures increase the lifespan of a species of worm called Caenorhabditis elegans, or C. elegans for short.

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Now a group of Northeastern researchers under the direction of biology assistant professor Javier Apfeld want to know why. Their hunch? Getting old is really just a mind game.

Apfeld and his team of researchers are investigating how signals from the brain control how quickly organisms age. They do these tests on C. elegans in the hopes that one day these worms might answer questions about our own mortality.

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"We can affect the function of some neurons, and the worms will live 50 percent longer. It's pretty amazing that they have this capacity to live longer, but instead the neurons could say, 'No, not right now,'" Apfeld says. "Maybe humans have something like that, too."

Apfeld likened the ability to extend a worm's lifespan to cooking. If he wanted to, he says he could make a worm live six times longer than it would normally by manipulating its environment or its neurons. "I know the recipe," he says.

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But right now he's not that interested in playing god and changing these worms' fates. Instead, he wants to find out how these manipulations affect the worms' nervous systems, and why they result in longer lifespans.

One type of external manipulation is dietary restriction. For example, it's been proven that if the C. elegans are given less food than they need, they will live longer. Scientists speculate that if organisms can...
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