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Synthetic biology: Extending life with genetic oscillators

May 21, 2023

In the field of synthetic biology, scientists are exploring ways to design gene networks that can provide specific biological functions. One particular challenge they face is engineering complex traits such as longevity. However, a recent breakthrough has shed light on the possibility of manipulating cellular ageing using a naturally occurring toggle switch found in yeast cells.

During the ageing process of yeast cells, a toggle switch determines whether the cells will experience nucleolar decline or mitochondrial decline. Researchers have successfully rewired this toggle switch, effectively creating a genetic clock within individual cells. This modified genetic clock generates sustained oscillations between nucleolar and mitochondrial ageing processes.

Remarkably, these oscillations have been found to extend the life span of the cells. By delaying the onset of ageing, which can be triggered by the loss of chromatin silencing or the depletion of heme, the cells experience increased longevity.

This groundbreaking research highlights the connection between gene network architecture and cellular longevity. It suggests that by manipulating gene circuits, scientists may be able to slow down the ageing process in living organisms.

The implications of these findings are significant. If researchers can gain a deeper understanding of the underlying mechanisms and develop a rational approach to designing gene circuits, it could open up new possibilities for extending human life span and improving overall health in the future.

This exciting area of synthetic biology holds promise for unravelling the mysteries of ageing and may pave the way for groundbreaking advancements in the field of longevity research.

Advances in biotechnology: Using synthetic gene oscillators to combat cellular ageing

Here are our key takeaways from the study, Engineering longevity—design of a synthetic gene oscillator to slow cellular aging.

Rewiring a naturally occurring toggle switch

 

Researchers successfully rewired a toggle switch found in yeast cells that determines the fate of cellular ageing.

This toggle switch can lead to either nucleolar decline or mitochondrial decay.

Creation of an autonomous genetic clock

 

By modifying the toggle switch, scientists engineered a genetic clock that induces sustained oscillations between nucleolar and mitochondrial ageing processes within individual cells.

Increased cellular life span

 

The oscillations (ups and downs) generated by the genetic clock resulted in a significant increase in cellular life span.

The progression of ageing was delayed, which was attributed to the loss of chromatin silencing or heme depletion.

Gene network architecture and cellular longevity

 

The study establishes a crucial connection between the architecture of gene networks and cellular longevity.

Understanding this relationship could pave the way for the rational design of gene circuits aimed at slowing down the ageing process.

Implications for synthetic biology

 

The research represents progress in the field of synthetic biology, demonstrating the application of engineering principles to design synthetic gene circuits that can control complex biological traits.

This study specifically focuses on longevity, but it highlights the broader potential of synthetic biology in manipulating biological functions for various purposes.


Reference: Zhen Zhou et al., Engineering longevity—design of a synthetic gene oscillator to slow cellular aging. Science 380, 376-381 (2023). DOI:10.1126/science.add7631