Scientists discover “junk DNA” holds the secret to immortality

I hate spiders and I hate hornets.

I’ve just spent the last two weeks or so in Vietnam, a place home to giant varieties of both.

I had a run-in with a hornet at the top of a mountain, but thankfully I didn’t see any big spiders.

What I did see a lot of were geckos.

If you’re like me and you don’t like spiders and their intimidating insect pals, you’re probably a fan of geckos.

Geckos not only eat spiders, but they eat the insects that spiders prey on, too. They also seem to like chocolate.

One evening we came back to our room to find an open packet of chocolate buttons jumping around like crazy.

Naturally, I assumed a giant spider had found its way into our room and was waiting for us to reach into the packet so it could bite us.

But it actually turned out to be a gecko, which promptly ran out through an airbrick on the wall.

Why all the interest in geckos? Because, as it turns out, they may hold the key to eternal youth.

When a gecko feels threatened it can shed its tail. The tail detaches from its body and spasms around on the floor.

A predator will be distracted by this spasming tail and the gecko can make its escape.

However, the interesting thing about this defence mechanism isn’t the fact the gecko can shed its tail, but the fact its tail will grow back.

And geckos aren’t the only animals that can regenerate lost body parts.

Salamanders can regrow legs. And certain species of worms and jellyfish can regenerate their entire bodies.

So how do they do it?

The answer lies in what is known as noncoding DNA. This is DNA that doesn’t create any proteins. It’s also called “junk DNA” because until recently it was thought to be, well, junk.

But as it turns out, that “junk” DNA might hold the key to regeneration and even immortality.

From The Telegraph:

Scientists have discovered that that in worms, a section of non-coding or ‘junk’ DNA controls the activation of a ‘master control gene’ called early growth response (EGR) which acts like a power switch, turning regeneration on or off…

The studies were done in three-banded panther worms. Scientists found that during regeneration the tightly-packed DNA in their cells, starts to unfold, allowing new areas to activate.

But crucially humans also carry EGR, and produce it when cells are stressed and in need of repair, yet it does not seem to trigger large scale regeneration.

Scientists now think that it master gene is wired differently in humans to animals and are now trying to find a way to tweak its circuitry to reap its regenerative benefits.

Post-doctoral student Andrew Gehrke of Harvard believes the answer lies in the area of non-coding DNA controlling the gene. Non-coding or junk DNA was once believed to do nothing, but in recent years scientists have realised is having a major impact.

“Only about two percent of the genome makes things like proteins,” added Mr Gehrke said. “We wanted to know: What is the other 98 percent of the genome doing during whole-body regeneration?

“I think we’ve only just scratched the surface. We’ve looked at some of these switches, but there’s a whole other aspect of how the genome is interacting on a larger scale, and all of that is important for turning genes on and off.”

The scientist quoted in the article, Andrew Gehrke, popped up on Reddit yesterday and offered to do an AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) on this discovery. I’ll see how that progresses and report back to you on it if it comes to pass.

In the meantime, you can find the full study here, in the journal Science, if you want to know more about it.

I’ve written a number of times before about how we will likely be the last generation to die.

For the last decade or so it seems like massive anti-ageing breakthroughs are just around the corner. The question is whether we will live long enough to benefit from them.

Another important question to consider is, what will happen to society when these breakthroughs become reality?

If you missed my article “Would eternal youth simply lead to long life of inescapable debt?” back in May, you can find it here.

In terms of investment. If you had to invest for the long term. The really, really long term, how would you go about it?

Companies don’t last. Properties fall down. Specific areas of land fall in and out of favour. Even currency gets inflated away.

The only investment that has really proven to stand the test of time is… yes, you guessed it: gold.

Last month I wrote about how gold is the only way of saving that has stood the test of time.

This was shortly before my colleague Eoin Treacy’s gold summit. The summit kicked off while I was away in Vietnam, but it had a huge response.

If you want to find out why, and get access to Eoin’s private plan to make a fortune from gold this year, click here.

If you plan on living a long time, or passing your wealth on to your children, hearing what Eoin has to say about investing in gold makes a massive amount of sense.

Until next time,

Harry Hamburg
Editor, Exponential Investor

Category: Genetics and Biotechnology

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