Scientists Find A Link Between Plants & Slowing The Aging Process 

Image by Ren Ran / Unsplash

Currently, the oldest living organism on planet Earth is a plant called Methuselah, a bristlecone pine tree almost 5,000 years old. That leads us to wonder, is there anything that we humans can learn about aging from plants? According to new research, there is!

In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers discovered a telomerase enzyme within the structure of land plants that closely resembles the structure of the same key enzyme in humans.

Telomeres as a key to healthy aging.

Telomeres help to prevent cells from aging and are an important aspect of longevity in humans, along with playing a crucial role in cancer. Every time our cells divide, the telomeres slightly shrink. Telomerase is an enzyme that helps slow the shrinking of those telomeres, but not much is known about how to increase its prevalence in the body. This identification of a similar enzyme in land plants opens up a huge door of possibilities to better understand the structure and activity of telomerase. 

"This is the first time that we have identified the detailed structure of the telomerase component from plants," said co-author of the study Julian Chen, Ph.D. 

The identification of this enzyme and its structure will pave the way for future research. Studies on the activity of telomerase can also open up possibilities to treat diseases related to premature aging. For example, people with telomere-related conditions like bone marrow failure, pulmonary fibrosis, and liver failure could all benefit from this research. 

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Going forward.

According to Chen, "We're hoping to learn something from their regulation, mechanisms or structures that can apply to human telomerase. So in terms of basic research, this is really exciting because it's a brand-new kingdom that we can explore as to how telomeres do their jobs in plants."

Researchers will now be conducting more studies using plants to see if they can increase activity with these enzymes. If they figure out ways to boost the telomerase enzyme in plants, it could eventually lead to the possibility of use on humans.

While scientists aren't ready to declare that we can stay young forever, research like this is promising. It shows us how much is out there that is yet to be discovered and how science surprises us every day. With these studies, scientists can get closer to changing the lives of people with telomere-related syndromes and maybe even find a way to slow the aging process for the rest of us.

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