Oregon State researchers recently discovered DNA in a nematode, a type of roundworm, that may provide an insight into the mechanisms of human aging. The researchers found a specific portion of DNA within the mitochondria of the nematode which displayed the characteristics of "selfish" DNA, in other words, DNA which actually hurts the animal's chances of survival. Scientists have previously found instances of selfish DNA occurring in plants, but this is the first example found in an animal. “We weren’t even looking for this when we found it, and at first we thought it must be a laboratory error,” said Dee Denver, Oregon State associate professor of zoology (photo left courtesy of OSU). "Selfish DNA is not supposed to be found in animals."
Although this fact alone is justification for excitement, the really interesting consequences of this research could come in relation to the human aging process. When we age our mitochondria show similar genetic deterioration to that exemplified in selfish DNA. Dee Denver said, "selfish DNA....could turn out to be fairly important as a new genetic model to study the type of mitochondrial decay that is associated with human aging.”
Selfish DNA is found in cell mitochondria, which generally work for the benefit of the cell. However, selfish DNA replicates itself faster than other DNA, does not serve a function in the cell, and sometime is even actively harmful. For example, some selfish DNA in plants can affect flowering and cause sterility.
The DNA found in the nematode did seem to have harmful effects. “Worms with it had less offspring than those without, they had less muscle activity,” said Katie Clark, Oregon State postdoctoral fellow. Also, the amount of selfish DNA seen in the nematodes increases as they age, suggesting another link to the aging process. Scientists could potentially use this breakthrough to study the causes of mitochondria genetic deterioration, and ultimately come to a better understanding of the human aging process.
Biotechnology Calendar Inc. will be holding our 6th Annual BioResearch Product Faire event on the OSU campus on October 12, 2012. Researchers are invited to attend and network with top laboratory equipment suppliers in a professional trade show environment.
For research funding data on OSU and information on the upcoming event, click the button below: