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Video transcript: BBSRC-funded science at Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition

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July 2012

Dr Matt Piper, Institute of Healthy Ageing
My name is Matt Piper and I work here at the Institute of Healthy Ageing. We work on yeast, worms and flies and we try to discover any genetic or environmental manipulation that extends a healthy life span. And the point is, of course, that we don't what to learn how to extend the life span really of the yeast worms and flies, we want to understand how to extent the healthy life span of humans and that really differentiates the research we do from any other type of biomedical research like cancer research, or arthritis or diabetes research. We think those things are actually symptoms of one common cause and that's ageing itself, so if we can treat ageing we can actually treat all the diseases of ageing simultaneously.

Video shows Dr Matt Piper in the laboratory with two vials containing flies

What you will be able to see is that we have very old flies in one of these vials and they sort of, like old people, they fall over and stumble around a bit, whereas the younger files are much more active and jump up and climb up the sides of the vials and I think this is a real demonstration that even though these organisms are sort of foreign to most people is that you can actually really see that they get old and age so they are useful for our ageing research.

Video shows old black and white footage of a rat in the laboratory

Approximately 70 years ago it was discovered that if you feed a rat about 60% of what it would eat by choice when given free access to food it lives for about 30-40% longer and this turns out to be relevant for almost model organism that it has been looked at.

Back in the laboratory with Dr Matt Piper

My particular interest is what it is about the food that is critical for that effect and what we have found is that if you uncouple all the parts of nutrition that go into a flies diet is that it's the amino acid, the protein component of the diet which is critically important for determining the life span of the animal. So if you give an animal a very unbalanced diet either having a lot of protein or a very small amount of protein they don't live very long and don't do very well, but if you can get that balance just right they live longer and are healthy for longer. So we are now interested in what it is about the protein that's critical for that effect so if we can understand that then we can intervene in that molecular process and hopefully benefit healthy ageing without affecting the diet dramatically.

Video shows footage of students in the university campus

There is a logical reason for why this may also be relevant for humans. There are some diets that are very imbalanced towards a lot of protein in the diet for instance and as the famous weight loss diets like the Atkin's Diet. Our evidence, at least in the flies and the mice, would suggest that if one continues with one of these protein imbalanced diets for a long time that life span is very compromised, is a very sport life span in the end. Now of course that is not being shown in humans, but I wouldn't be rushing out and adopting one of those diets long term.

ENDS

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