The secrets of a longer life may lie in fruit flies
You and those tiny flies that congregate on bananas in your fruit bowl have a lot more in common than you probably realise. Homo sapiens and Drosophila melanogaster – the scientific name for fruit flies – share 60% of the same genes and age in very similar ways. And, according to researchers from the Institute of Health Ageing at University College London (UCL), their studies using the diminutive insect will reveal how to delay ageing.
The scientists have been experimenting with both fruit flies and mice to assess the effects of certain drugs and diet on ageing. Earlier research on rats revealed that cutting calorie intake by 40% extends life by up to 20 or 30%. That’s equivalent to 20 years in a human. And this new research has revealed that protein intake is also related to longevity: eating less means longer life, it would seem.
“I have been brought up on a discipline of a well-balanced diet and exercise,” says principal investigator Dr Matthew Piper of UCL. “I would, however, avoid adopting a diet heavily imbalanced towards high protein intake. We don't know what the long-term consequences are for this and if the mouse and fly data are at all relevant for humans, the indications are that it would shorten lifespan.”
This type of research – using flies and rodents to study the genetics of human ageing – is an extremely new scientific field so the researchers are cautious about using their evidence to come up with advice for humans, however. They are excited about what the future may hold, though: “The most easily imagined outcome of our research is the development of drugs to target ageing,” says Piper. “Recent data in flies and mice already indicate that drugs that mimic reduced protein intake can be beneficial for longevity. With more understanding of the side effects of chronic doses of these compounds, we will enhance the precision of treatment in such a way that it becomes feasible to imagine their implementation for humans.”