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Health Agencies Update
January 17, 2001

Holy Grail! A Long-Life Mutation

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JAMA. 2001;285(3):284. doi:10.1001/jama.285.3.284-JHA00014-3-1

A research team at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, Farmington, has discovered a gene that, when mutated, can nearly double the life span of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, without adverse effects on its fertility or physical activity (Science. 2000;290:2137-2140). The work, supported in part by the National Institute on Aging, may lead to a better understanding of how metabolism affects the process of aging.

The researchers playfully dubbed the gene Indy—shorthand for "I'm not dead yet"—in reference to the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, in which a still-living plague victim protests as he is being carted off for burial. Mutations in the gene appear to alter the way the flies' bodies store and use energy, creating a metabolic state that mimics caloric restriction. In other words, a fruit fly's body functions as if it were dieting, even though its eating habits are unaltered. Previous studies have found that fruit flies, worms, and rodents live longer when fed a low-calorie diet. "Further characterization of the Indy mutants may provide direct genetic insight into the role of energy balance and aging, and a point of access for genetic and pharmacological interventions for extending life span," the investigators noted.