• Old alone

Old alone (Photo : Reuters)

The breakthrough discovery of a vital mechanism that controls aging has led scientists to speculate they might be able to exert more control over the aging process.

Researchers from the Salk Institute in the U.S and the Chinese Academy of Science have discovered the deterioration of a specific set of DNA bundles called "heterochromatin" largely determines how fast or slow a person ages.

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The groundbreaking discovery of this key mechanism responsible for aging makes scientists confident the process can be slowed or probably reversed.

The capability to manipulate the rate of the degeneration or even reverse it might lead to new treatments to treat age-related diseases like Alzheimer's or Parkinson's. It might even be a "Fountain of Youth."

While studying Werner syndrome (a very rare genetic disorder that causes persons to age faster than normal), researchers focused on heterochromatin, a DNA cluster responsible for the genetic mutations.

Researchers discovered heterochromatin severely disrupted normal cellular functions, causing cells to age and die prematurely if destabilized. Once this destabilization sets in, people age dramatically, wither away, and die, said senior researcher Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte from the Salk Institute.

"Our findings present that the gene mutation that causes Werner syndrome leads to the disorganisation of heterochromatin, and that this disruption of regular DNA packaging is a key driver of ageing," he noted.

"This disruption of normal DNA packaging is a key driver of aging. This has implications beyond Werner syndrome, as it identifies a central mechanism of aging -- heterochromatin disorganization -- which has been shown to be reversible".

The research team later discovered that if WRN, a gene that helps maintain the structure and integrity of a person's DNA, produces a mutant protein, people suffer from Werner syndrome. The mutant protein significantly disrupts the replication and repair of DNA, thereby aging the entire human body, said the Inquisitr.

Researchers were also to conclusively prove heterochromatin strands are present in all humans, not only those who suffer from Werner syndrome.

"What this study means is that this protein does not only work in a particular genetic disease, it works in all humans. This mechanism is general for the aging process", said Belmonte.

"If we are artificially able to play around with these marks, we may be able to alter the process of aging."