"Long before it's in the papers"
January 28, 2015


Scientists look to bat caves for “fountains of youth”

July 1, 2009
Courtesy Federation of American 
Societies for Experimental Biology
and World Science staff

Sci­en­tists from Tex­as are bat­ty over a disco­very they say could lead to the big­gest break­through in med­i­cal his­to­ry—sig­ni­fi­cant­ly long­er life­spans.

For long-lived bats, prop­er pro­tein fold­ing—the or­gan­is­m’s carefully-orchestrated shap­ing of each pro­tein in­to its cor­rect for­m—seems to be the se­cret, ac­cord­ing to the re­search­ers.

A computer model showing the struc­ture of a fair­ly typi­cal pro­tein. Like many oth­ers, this one con­sists of sym­met­ri­cal sub­units, which are co­lored vio­let and green in this mo­del. (Courtesy BNL) 

Pro­teins are one of the key types of mol­e­cules that make up any liv­ing thing. They do much of the chem­i­cal work that keeps a body going. But when pro­teins are pro­duced, these com­plex mol­e­cules, which are ex­tremely long in their orig­i­nal forms, must be folded up in­to more com­pact struc­tures, tak­ing an ar­ray of dif­fer­ent and use­ful shapes.

Pro­teins mostly fold them­selves, al­though they al­so rely on sep­a­rate mol­e­cules that help in the pro­cess.

Mis­folded pro­teins, on the oth­er hand, are re­spon­si­ble for a num­ber of dis­eases.

The new report, fea­tured on the co­ver of the July 2009 print is­sue of The FASEB (Fe­der­ation of Amer­i­can Soc­ie­ties for Ex­peri­ment­al Bio­logy) Jour­nal, indi­cates that prop­er pro­tein fold­ing ex­plains why cer­tain bats live sig­nif­i­cantly long­er than oth­er mam­mals of com­pa­ra­ble size, such as mice.

“Ul­ti­mately we are try­ing to disco­ver what un­der­ly­ing mech­a­nisms al­low for some an­i­mal spe­cies to live a very long time with the hope that we might be able to de­vel­op ther­a­pies that al­low peo­ple to age more slow­ly,” said bio­chem­ist Asish Chaud­huri of the VA Med­i­cal Cen­ter, San An­to­nio, Tex­as and the sen­ior re­search­er in­volved in the work.

Asish and col­leagues ex­tracted pro­teins from the liv­ers of two long-lived bat spe­cies, Ta­da­rida bra­si­lien­sis and My­otis ve­lif­er, and young adult mice and ex­posed them to chem­i­cals known to cause pro­tein mis­fold­ing. Af­ter ex­am­in­ing the pro­teins, the sci­en­tists found that the bat pro­teins ex­hib­ited less dam­age than those of the mice, in­di­cat­ing that bats have a mech­an­ism for main­tain­ing prop­er struc­ture un­der ex­treme stress.

“Maybe Juan Pon­ce De León was­n’t too far off the mark when he searched Flor­i­da for the Foun­tain of Youth,” said Ger­ald Weiss­mann, editor-in-chief of the jour­nal. “As it turns out, one of these bat spe­cies lives out its long life in Flor­i­da. Since bats are ro­dents with wings, this chem­i­cal clue as to why bats beat out mice in the ag­ing game should point sci­en­tists to the source of this elu­sive foun­tain.”

* * *

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Homepage image: Tadarida brasiliensis (courtesy Utah Div. of Wildlife Resources) 


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Scientists from Texas are batty over a discovery they say could lead to the biggest breakthrough in medical history—significantly longer lifespans. For long-lived bats, proper protein folding—the organism’s carefully-orchestrated shaping of each protein molecule into its correct form—seems to be the secret, according to the researchers. Proteins are one of the key types of molecules that make up any living thing. They do much of the chemical work that keeps a body alive. But when proteins are produced, these complex molecules, which are extremely long in their original forms, must be folded up into more compact structures, taking an array of different and useful shapes. Proteins mostly fold themselves, although they also rely on separate molecules that help in the process. Misfolded proteins, on the other hand, are responsible for a number of diseases. The new finding, featured on the cover of the July 2009 print issue of The FASEB Journal, shows that proper protein folding explains why certain bats live significantly longer than other mammals of comparable size, such as mice, according to the scientists. “Ultimately we are trying to discover what underlying mechanisms allow for some animal species to live a very long time with the hope that we might be able to develop therapies that allow people to age more slowly,” said biochemist Asish Chaudhuri of the VA Medical Center, San Antonio, Texas and the senior researcher involved in the work. Asish and colleagues extracted proteins from the livers of two long-lived bat species, Tadarida brasiliensis and Myotis velifer, and young adult mice and exposed them to chemicals known to cause protein misfolding. After examining the proteins, the scientists found that the bat proteins exhibited less damage than those of the mice, indicating that bats have a mechanism for maintaining proper structure under extreme stress. “Maybe Juan Ponce De León wasn’t too far off the mark when he searched Florida for the Fountain of Youth,” said Gerald Weissmann, editor-in-chief of the journal. “As it turns out, one of these bat species lives out its long life in Florida. Since bats are rodents with wings, this chemical clue as to why bats beat out mice in the aging game should point scientists to the source of this elusive fountain.”