Gene of the month - INDY

12 May 2013

Interview with

Kat Arney

And finally, our gene of the month is INDY, short for I'm Not Dead Yet. It owes its name to a scene in the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, where plague victims are being dumped in a cart for burial despite one of them protesting that he's very much alive. First discovered in 2000 by Stephen Helfand and his team in the US, flies with a mutated version of INDY live around twice as long as usual, extending their lifespan from the normal average of 37 days to between 69 and 71 days, while appearing to be perfectly healthy.

Researchers think that INDY is involved in helping cells to control their metabolism - how they get energy from food. This is something that's known to be involved in longevity, and extremely low-calories diets can help to extend lifespan in certain animals, although it's not clear about humans just yet.

Switching off INDY in tiny C. elegans worms can also extend their lifespan, and there's also a version in mammals - mostly active in the liver in mice. In these animals, switching off INDY in the liver helps to protect them from getting fat and developing insulin resistance - a precursor to type 2 diabetes - when they're on a high calorie diet. Although it's not yet clear whether switching off INDY in mice helps to extend their lifespan, the research so far suggests that it could be a good target for drugs aimed at treating type 2 diabetes, obesity and other metabolic diseases. And - who knows? - maybe even helping us to live longer, one day.

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