Restricting yourself to a super-low calorie diet has been discovered as a way to extend your lifespan by a noticeable number of years, but it comes with a pretty lousy side effect: you don't get to eat anything. Not worth it! I'd rather die at 70 knowing the sweet taste of ham and cheese Hot Pockets than live to 90 and always be hungry. But there's good news: it looks like scientists have figured out why calorie-restricted diets increase lifespans, and they're going to put that magic in pill form.
It turns out that starving yourself causes your ribosomes (your cell's protein factories) to mutate, which is what leads to the positive effects. And now some smartypants Biologists at the University of Washington have figured out how to induce the life-extending mutation in ribosomes with a drug that doubles the lifespan of yeast cells.
In this project, the UW researchers studied many different strains of yeast cells that had lower protein production. They found that mutations to the ribosome, the cell's protein factory, sometimes led to increased life span. Ribosomes are made up of two parts — the large and small subunits — and the researchers tried to isolate the life-span-related mutation to one of those parts.
"What we noticed right away was that the long-lived strains always had mutations in the large ribosomal subunit and never in the small subunit," said the study's lead author, Kristan Steffen, a graduate student in the UW Department of Biochemistry.
The researchers also tested a drug called diazaborine, which specifically interferes with synthesis of the ribosomes' large subunits, but not small subunits, and found that treating cells with the drug made them live about 50 percent longer than untreated cells. Using a series of genetic tests, the scientists then showed that depletion of the ribosomes' large subunits was likely to be increasing life span by a mechanism related to dietary restriction — the TOR signaling pathway.