The effects of space travel on aging have long been theorized. The famous twin paradox has one twin aging slower than the other due to the effects of relativity and time. Einstein himself spent many hours pondering the subject. Now, a new study rooted in biology rather than physics and published in the online journal Scientific Reports shows that spaceflight can indeed extend lifespans – of worms.
An international group of scientists studying bone and muscle loss after prolonged time in space found an interesting phenomenon in worms brought back from the International Space Station. Spaceflight seemed to suppress the accumulation of toxic proteins in the worms that are normally associated with aging. In addition, several genes were expressed at lower levels in the worms. Worms on Earth who had the same genes expressed less tend to live longer.
“We identified seven genes, which were down-regulated in space and whose inactivation extended lifespan under laboratory conditions,” said Dr. Nathaniel Szewczyk, from The University of Nottingham.
“We are not entirely certain, but it would appear that these genes are involved in how the worm senses the environment and signals changes in metabolism in order to adapt to the environment. For example, one of the genes we have identified encodes insulin which, because of diabetes, is well known to be associated with metabolic control. In worms, flies, and mice insulin is also associated with modulation of lifespan.”
Interestingly enough, the muscle loss that happens from space travel might not be a negative side effect, but rather a positive one.
“Well, most of us know that muscle tends to shrink in space. These latest results suggest that this is almost certainly an adaptive response rather than a pathological one. Counter-intuitively, muscle in space may age better than on Earth. It may also be that spaceflight slows the process of aging.”
If you’re interested in living longer and have a fat wallet, you just may get the chance to add a few days to your life by visiting the moon in 2015