Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could put a pause button on aging? That is the kind of stuff we have often heard in old folk tales. But what if we told you that this is, in fact, possible, and that a tiny fish may hold the secret to preventing human aging?
The African turquoise killifish (Nothobranchius furzeri) is a remarkable little creature. In order to survive parched pond beds during dry or drought-like seasons in places like Zimbabwe and Mozambique, these fish are able to arrest the growth of their embryos and put them on hold for five months and up to two years. That is, the embryos enter suspended animation and only hatch when the rainy season arrives and their habitat is replenished with enough water. Amazingly, this duration matches, or sometimes even exceeds their lifespan.
Image source - Wikimedia Commons
To elaborate further, when the fish enters this suspended animation stage, it prevents the embryos from requiring essential resources when they are unavailable in its environment. So, all of the embryo’s vital body processes, like muscle and nerve cell growth, are put on hold.
Scientifically, this process is called diapause, and it allows the little fish to adapt better to seasonal pressures and environmental changes. However, exactly how diapause protects living organisms is largely unknown. Interestingly, the killifish, which are roughly the size of your thumb, have an adult lifetime of about six months.
Image source - Wikimedia Commons
This information has been revealed in a research article recently published in the journal 'Science'.
In the study, researchers compared killifish embryos that halted their growth with those that had avoided diapause and hatched into adults. It was disclosed that diapauses didn’t decrease an adult fish’s growth, life span, or ability to reproduce. This indicated that even though the animal paused its development for longer than its typical lifetime, it didn’t age.
Researchers also noted that the unique mechanism employed by the killifish involves slowing cell and organ growth. Another vital component that helps the African fish to achieve the process is a protein called CBX7. However, the most important point to consider here is the fact that even when the adult fish enters this extreme survival technique, its life span suffers no negative effects. This is what has fascinated scientists the most.
Learning about the mechanism behind the anti-aging tricks of the African turquoise killifish can be a breakthrough, as scientists can now apply the same system to people and see if it works. The idea is, of course, still in the discussion stage. But researchers say that this discovery could shed light on hitherto unknown mechanisms to preserve cells and hopefully introduce a system to tackle aging and age-related diseases in humans.
“We think it’s interesting from a fundamental point of view to understand how the accumulation of the damage due to the passage of time can be stopped or suspended. Diapause offers us a way to understand this,” Stanford professor and co-author of the study, Anne Brunet, was quoted as saying.
It is also worth noting that not all experts agree that this particular study is the best way to solve the mysteries of aging and longevity. Many feel that it would be better if we focused on hibernation in animals because it affects adult animals and preserves organs.
For now, though, there is great excitement in the field of science after the revelations from the study on the African turquoise killifish. We might still be a long way away from replicating what the fish does on humans, but if it can be successfully achieved then it would lead to amazing possibilities.
Just imagine: if humans could perform the same process of the killifish, a 70-year-old person can instead have a lifespan of 140 or more than 300 years. Now that is something worth rooting for, isn't it?
Cover Image: Cisamarc/ Wikimedia Commons