Gene of the Month - Methuselah

14 June 2017
Posted by Kat Arney.

It's time for our gene of the month, and this time it’s Methuselah.

Named after the biblical character who was claimed to have racked up an astonishing 969 years of life and is also named as Noah’s grandfather, the functions of the fruit fly gene Methuselah are rather more based in scientific evidence than mythical hearsay.

The gene itself encodes a protein that helps to send signals between cells and is part of a family of similar genes that were thought to be only found in insects, although similar signalling molecules are found across the tree of life.

Flies with a shortened version of the gene live around a third longer than their normal counterparts - although not anywhere close to the roughly 12 times lifespan attributed to their human namesake.

These flies also have additional superpowers - they can flap their wings faster, and are thought to have enhanced sensory abilities and are resistant to various forms of stress, including starvation, high temperature and the insecticide paraquat (the bible does not reveal whether Noah’s grandad had any of these characteristics too).

Somewhat ironically, there is a debate over the actual age of the Methuselah gene itself. Some researchers claim it is a relatively new gene, only popping up in the past 10 million years (that’s quick in evolutionary terms).

But, more detailed genetic analysis has revealed a relative of Methuselah in crustaceans, which separated from insects more than 400 million years ago - so the gene itself seems to be much older than previously thought.

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