With the help of worms that share similar genetics to humans, the research group identified a previously unknown link between two genes- one associated with aging, the other with certain types of cancer.
The study indicates that calorie intake can affect how the genes operate, possibly increasing lifespan in animals, an effect, which has been previously observed but is not yet fully explained.
The study has been published in the journal Current Biology.
Scientists studied a gene called TOR, which regulates cell growth and plays a role in the development of cancer.
"In C. elegans, the tiny roundworm that our lab studies, as well as some other animals, a loss of TOR has been shown to slow aging. Our work with C. elegans reveals that TOR depends on a second gene called pha4/FoxA to control the aging process," says study co-author Susan Mango, PhD, HCI investigator and professor in the University of Utah Department of Oncological Sciences.
The study also reveals calorie restriction plays a role in how these genes work.
"When there's lots of food, TOR gets active, which decreases the action of pha4/FoxA down the line, and that in turn shortens the lifespan of C. elegans," says Mango.
"When there's little food, there's little TOR and more pha4/FoxA, and that results in a longer lifespan," she added.
In short, a low calorie diet can affect the TOR and pha4/FoxA genes in worms, slowing the progression of aging.