It turns out that having children at an advanced age won't kill you - instead, it might mean you'll live up to 30 percent longer than average. A group of researchers at the University of California discovered this odd fact by studying the genetic makeup of flies who lay eggs late in their lives. There's a chance their discovery could lead to a simple gene therapy for human women that would extend their childbearing years and their lifespans. The researchers found two fly genes, known as magu and hebe, that are responsible for causing older female flies to continue laying eggs. And they noticed that when those genes "over-express," or go into overdrive, that they also extend the natural lifespan of the flies by up to 30 percent. Humans have a gene, SMOC2, which is similar to the magu gene, so it's possible that these findings will be relevant to humans as well. Scientists already know of reliable ways to make genes over-express. John Tower and Yishi Li, who conducted the research, are publishing the results this month in Molecular Genetics and Genomics. They suggest that hebe and magu genes have life-extending effects because they promote the formation of stem cells. Stem cells keep bodies young, and are also crucial to reproductive health. So when hebe and magu over-express, they stimulate the growth of new stem cells, and that has a cascade effect on the body's youthfulness. Said Tower:
This would appear to be stimulating the stem cells to divide more in the old fly and therefore produce more offspring. It both makes females lay more eggs and live longer, so it really argues against any kind of obligatory tradeoff between reproduction and lifespan.
Add to your purses of the future a little bag of life-extension pills that will keep you fertile and lively well into your 100s. Adult-Specific Over-Expression of the Drosophila Genes magu and hebe [via Molecular Genetics and Genomics]