Global Technology - September 2018

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Global Technology Briefing

Now, let’s examine the most important technological and scientific breakthroughs emerging from labs around the world.

Aging is a process of gradual deterioration from exposure to time and the elements; this process begins with deterioration deep inside every cell. As described in a recent issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, researchers from Stanford University have identified a protein that guards cells against aging-related problems, by protecting a particularly vulnerable set of genes.

The genes that encode components of the ribosome — the protein-making machine of the cell — are abundant and constantly in use. Most organisms, including humans, have many copies of ribosomal DNA, or rDNA, some of which are kept silent as backups in case the active copies of ribosomal genes are damaged. This is important because rDNA is essential, but prone to mutation and rearrangement.

Ribosomal DNA is one of the major hotspots for instability in the genome.

The researchers examined the relationship between aging, rDNA, and a protein called SIRT7. SIRT7 helps modify the proteins that DNA winds around, which affects whether genes are turned on or off. They found that SIRT7 was important for keeping parts of the rDNA turned off.

This function turned out to be crucial for preventing aging-related deterioration in the cell. When SIRT7 was removed, the rDNA genes became damaged. The cells stopped dividing and exhibited other symptoms of damage and age. Such senescent cells accumulate in tissues in aging-related conditions as diverse as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and neurodegeneration; studies in mice have suggested that removing senescent cells can prevent some of these conditions. Identifying SIRT7 as a protein that keeps cells healthy could therefore lead to therapies that prevent cellular senescence.

By identifying rDNA instability as an underlying trigger of senescence of human cells and demonstrating the central role of SIRT7 in protecting against this process, these studies not only provide important insights into basic mechanisms of aging, but also identify potential molecular targets for aging-related disease processes.


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