Researchers may have just cracked the code for living longer. Several Caenorhabditis elegans worms, which surprisingly have a lot in common with humans, were taken onboard an 11-day mission to the International Space Station and brought back to be studied. The C. elegans worm is one of the most studied organisms in the entire world and is frequently used in space travel research due to the similarities they share with humans in the way muscles deteriorate.
The study revealed that five genes in the worm showed reduced activity, which actually changed how they aged. When these genes were supressed in Earth-bound worms, longer lifespans would result. University of Nottingham researcher Dr. Nathaniel Szewczyk commented on the study, saying: “It would appear that these genes are involved in how the worm senses the environment and signals changes in metabolism in order to adapt to the environment. Most of us know that muscle tends to shrink in space.”
The results suggest that the worms’ response is adaptive rather than pathological. The worms also experienced changes in muscles that involved decreased production of the polyglutamine aggregates protein, which plays a role in the ageing of the muscle. On that note, Szewczyk also said: “Counter-intuitively, muscle in space may age better than on Earth. It may also be that spaceflight slows the process of ageing.”