60-Second Science

Sugar Negates Worm's Life-Extending Mutation

A study with roundworms in the journal Cell Metabolism found that a diet rich in sugar offset a mutation that ordinarily doubled the worms' life spans. Rachel Kremen reports

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

For worms fed a sugary diet, life is sweet. But short. According to a new study published in the journal Cell Metabolism, consistently adding a small amount of sugar to a worm's regular diet of bacteria shortened its lifespan by 20 percent. The research was performed on C. elegans, tiny roundworms that typically live an average of two weeks.

In previous work, Cynthia Kenyon of the University of California, San Francisco, found that a mutation to a gene called daf-2 changed insulin signaling and doubled the lifespan of the worms. And the worms didn’t get old at their usual pace and then hang on longer—they actually aged more slowly.

Now Kenyon’s new study shows that worms with the daf-2 mutation don’t get the life-extending benefits if they are routinely fed glucose. More research will be needed to see whether a similar situation holds true in humans. But Kenyon believes the findings might have significant implications for emerging diabetes therapies, as well as for diets that could extend lifespans. This much is certain: based on her research, Kenyon has stopped eating dessert.

—Rachel Kremen

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