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Live long and prosper: Spaceflight 'slows ageing process'

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Microscopic worms live longer in space, scientists have revealed in research that has implications for human ageing.

By blasting a bunch of Caenorhabditis elegans worms into orbit on the International Space Station, and comparing them with a set of developmentally-matched worms back on Earth, boffins found that the astro-nematodes enjoyed increased lifespan and had lower levels of ageing proteins in their bodies.

The globe-spanning team of experts were investigating the loss of bone and muscle mass experienced by astronauts after long spells among the stars. Their findings, published last week in the journal Nature, suggest that although muscle may shrink in space, it ages better. Dr Nathaniel Szewczyk, a researcher from the Centre for Musculoskeletal Ageing Research at The University of Nottingham, said:

Most of us know that muscle tends to shrink in space. These latest results suggest that this is almost certainly an adaptive response rather than a pathological one. Counter-intuitively, muscle in space may age better than on Earth. It may also be that spaceflight slows the process of ageing.

It appears that the low gravity environment inactivated certain genes associated with ageing. That meant that particular toxins and proteins created by these genes were not produced and the muscles stayed healthier for longer:

These results suggest that aging in C. elegans is slowed through neuronal and endocrine response to space environmental cues.

The C. elegans worms from Bristol are famously the first worms to survive untended in space. ®

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