Researchers in Switzerland have discovered the impact of a longevity gene in mice which is crucial in unveiling the secrets of aging. Their findings led to an experiment that extended the life-span of worms by 60% through use of basic antibiotics.

The goal of the research (which appeared  in the scientific journal Nature) was to find out why some members of the same species live much longer than others.

Our lab has been using a complex genetic reference population of mice, which mimics the human population to study aging, explained John Auwerx, head of the team at Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL).

The scientists examined the mice’s mitochondria, the power plant of a cell. They determined how a group of three genes impacted the rodent’s life-span by how fast they operate.

Mice who had genes that were 50% slower lived 30% longer than an average mouse lifespan.

The researchers validated the learnings experimentally in a worm which resulted in a 60% increase in the worm’s life-span. Because mitochondria are bacteria living inside cells, the scientists used antibiotics to target bacteria.  The treatment mimicked genetic effects resulting in longer life.

Mitochondria process nutrients into proteins. Several studies show they may be the driving force behind aging.

The scientists cautioned that more studies are needed to discover if antibiotics can be employed to slow aging in mammals.