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Sex & Aging

December 26, 2012

Removing sperm and egg-producing cells from roundworms makes them live longer, and a new study reveals why.



Sex versus survival.  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

There’s growing evidence that sterilization prolongs life, in species from insects to humans.  Now, Adam Antebi of the Max Planck Institute for the Biology of Aging in Germany has found a possible mechanism for it. They studied the hermaphroditic roundworm C. elegans.  Removing its sperm and egg-producing cells extends the worm’s lifespan by 50 percent.  Antebi’s team found that removing those cells triggers a reaction in the surrounding tissue.

ADAM ANTEBI (Max Planck Institute for Biology of Aging, Germany):

And it sends out this signal in the form of a steroid-like hormone.  And this steroid hormone turns on this molecular switch, which switches them into a kind of survival mode.

Antebi says that during times of reproductive stress, the switch may help buy the worms time, by slowing their metabolism and conserving energy.  I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.

C. elegans, a hermaphroditic roundworm, trades reproduction for long life. (Zeynep F. Altun)