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Ageing has been the one thing that human beings have not been able to slow. So far, our war against death has been waged by extending life rather than slowing down ageing. Now, thanks to a rapidly ageing fish, that could all change.
For as long as human beings have been around on Planet Earth, we’ve taken ageing for granted. It is one of nature’s final frontiers. Though we still don’t know why we age and die, it is one of those immutable laws: what takes birth must grow old and frail, and must die. The cycle of life cannot be reversed, the ravages of time cannot be undone.
But man is nothing if not ambitious. There are scientists working away in their labs on the problem of ageing, and the hunt for the anti-ageing drug is on. We may not be able to prevent death altogether, but we may be able to delay the process of ageing. Imagine a world in which you hit your puberty in your thirties, your middle age at a hundred, and retire on your one-sixtieth birthday.
Now, these scientists are getting some unexpected help from a fish called the turquoise killifish, a rather unremarkable animal apart from the rate at which it ages. In just three months it goes from being an active young fish to a decrepit, old one. It is one of the shortest-lived vertebrates in the world.
Much of anti-ageing research is done on what are called model organisms, like mice, rats and fruit flies. However, fruit flies are invertebrates, which makes it difficult to validate the research and apply it to humans, whereas vertebrates such as mice and rats live for years, which makes the length of the typical anti-ageing experiment too high to be of much practical use.
But now, with the finding of the turquoise killifish, whose lifespan is only three months, scientists are hoping to fast-forward anti-ageing research. In a paper published recently in Cell, they detail a genetic toolkit that includes the fish’s entire sequenced genome as well as the locations of several ageing-related genes.
New genetic tools like CRISPR are helping scientists identify relevant genes more easily than ever. Anti-ageing drugs could also be tested on the fish. The turquoise killifish could usher in a new age of anti-ageing research.
So if all goes well, it could be that we indeed get our long lives from a fish

Jason Lee

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