Video transcript: Blue wave reveals pathway of death in worms

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July 2013

Dr David Gems, Institute of Healthy Ageing, University College London
Ageing. It's really happening, it's going to be solved I think. It's happening now, it's being solved as we speak.

Video title 'Blue Death: The frontiers of ageing research'

Trying to understand ageing in a human being, well, biologists have just failed to do that over many centuries of studying it. So the current strategy is to say, ok, let's take a simple organism, just the simplest organism that you can find, which is an animal and does show ageing, and try to solve ageing in that one organism.

Video shows David looking through a microscope at C. elegans

And if we can do that, maybe what we learn will be applicable to humans. In the organism that I work on, C. elegans increases in lifespan of up to 10 fold have been achieved.

Cassandra Coburn, Institute of Healthy Ageing, University College London
One of the important things that people look for in the ageing field are things called biomarkers of ageing. Things that you can measure tangibly over the course of an organism's lifespan.

Video shows Cassandra in the laboratory and looking through a microscope

So, for example, what I work on, the things I worked on were originally thought to be biomarkers of ageing so that's little bright patches of fluorescence in the worm intestine. What I have shown is actually that is not a valid biomarker of age at all. What it is actually is much more a marker of death, so the more bright stuff a worm has, it's much more likely to die very soon.

Dr David Gems
The current working model is that organisms can actually regulate their growth and their ageing rate according to how much food there is. What we are studying is this sensing system for nutrition, which is controlling ageing and growth.

Video shows David looking through a microscope

What our findings imply is that, in principle, we can manipulate with drugs this sensing system in order to produce increases in lifespan without having to reduce food intake.

Video shows Cassandra looking through a microscope at worms

Cassandra Coburn
Ah ha, we have got worms!

Video shows worms glowing blue fluorescence

When you shine a UV light on a worm it just comes up blue. So I haven't put that there, it's just part of a worm. We think that almost the death of the worm kind of happens in the intestine. This is almost like a heart attack that we are seeing. It's like some kind of trigger of death that once started kind of doesn't stop.

Dr David Gems
Ageing is a trait like any other. It's a genetically controlled trait like any other like eye colour, hair colour or whatever.

What we try to do is to use very simple organisms that are very easy to work with in the laboratory – cheap to work with – to identify genes that control ageing and then to find out what those genes are and what they do. There are reasons for optimism there because remember that many of the genes that actually encode for the worm are the same genes that encode for humans. In fact some of the genes that control ageing in worms are present in humans and we have shown that those equivalent genes control ageing in many other organisms so in fruit flies and in mice, for example.

Video shows fruit flies

Video shows worms under UV light glowing blue fluorescence

Cassandra Coburn
Look, you can see the brightness there, this is it. You can see that it's still alive but it's just getting that much much brighter. That spread is death. That's showing the cells dying and you can see that completely consumes the worm. But can you see how bright that is compared to before? It's a real live death as it were.

Video shows comparison of worm before and during death with the dying worm glowing blue fluorescence

Dr David Gems
If ageing was retarded in humans what one would expect is a reduction in the levels of most, or all, ageing-related illnesses. So you'd have a reduction in the levels of cancer, reductions in the levels of dementia such as Alzheimer's, reductions in cardiovascular disease, reductions in type 2 diabetes, reductions in blindness, in osteoporosis, incontinence. In all of it.

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