A gene that holds the key to extending life by up to two decades has been discovered by scientists.
The gene is found in all mammals and is known to protect against age-related cell damage.
The scientists manipulated the gene, SIRT6, in laboratory mice and found it extended their lifespan by up to 15 per cent, the Daily Express reported.
They hope the discovery will lead to the creation of a pill to help older people stay fitter, healthier and live longer - a breakthrough akin to finding "the fountain of youth".
According to results of a trial, when researchers from Bar-Ilan University in Israel reduced or removed the gene, the mice developed diabetes, curvature of the spine and aged faster.
Mouse and human SIRT genes are 80 per cent identical.
"This gene is important to health and if you can tinker with it to get the body to make more of it then we could get people living longer," said Biologist Dr Haim Cohen, who led the study.
This gene is important to health and if you can tinker with it to get the body to make more of it then we could get people living longer
Dr Cohen explained "We can't inject the gene so we are looking for a pill that can turn on the gene. If we can do that, then we might have found the fountain of youth."
Dr Cohen believes a pill could be taken in young adulthood or middle age before the ageing process begins. However, he says human trials are years away.
The SIRT6 gene is part of a group of seven related pieces of DNA that has already excited drug companies.
The finding was published in the journal Nature.