Worms always have creeped me out a little. I just can't trust something with no legs (or too many of them, like spiders). But if recent research is sound, I might want to rethink my view, as the little invertebrates might hold the answer to a long, strong life.

While you might not think of worms as your cousins, our aging patterns actually are pretty similar. Like scientists' good ol' friend the fruit fly, though, a worm's life doesn't last long--they give up the ghost in about three weeks. This quick life cycle makes them great for research, including study on aging.

Knowing this, as summarized in Science Daily, researchers from University of Michigan Life Sciences set out to figure out exactly what causes motor function to decline. Honing in on the junction where muscle tissue and motor neurons "talk" to each other, they discovered that, in roundworms, a particular molecule, slowpoke potassium channel family member 1 (SLO-1), regulates communication. SLO-1 slows down the signals from the neurons, decreasing motor function.

So naturally, the researchers wanted to see what would happen if they messed with SLO-1. They manipulated the molecule with drugs and genetic tweaks. Not only did the roundworms keep better motor function as they aged, but they lived longer, too. Importantly, however, the researchers saw this effect only when they blocked SLO-1 in the worms' middle adulthood. When the manipulations happened early in the worms' life, there was zero effect on lifespan, and motor function actually got worse.

The researchers still don't know the precise mechanisms by which SLO-1 alters lifespan. But they point out that the molecule appears in many different species. This means there's a big opportunity to see how it works and identify when manipulation is best on a broader scale. If they can do that, there's a potential to develop anti-aging, strength-preserving treatments that could keep you thriving professionally and building your business legacy well past the typical retirement years. From another perspective, the ability to maintain good motor function also could mean that you maintain greater independence and control over your innovations, and that even as you delegate to people you trust for efficiency's sake, you have the choice to be physically involved in the daily operations of your company. For many individuals, this ability to be present and contribute yields a significantly greater sense of personal purpose and, subsequently, a happier life. 

As you consider the study and how to keep yourself fit enough for more fulfilling work, remember that biological life is ridiculously complex. Even in a worm, there's not just one process or substance that makes it all work. There are many puzzle pieces that all fit together, and those pieces are influenced by external factors, too. We know, for example, that the VCAM1 protein can cause brain deterioration, and that so-called "superagers" tend to have more Von Economo neurons that help with memory, decision making and emotional intelligence. So see SLO-1 as part of the big picture. Then take heart in the fact that, every day, we're connecting more and more of the dots.

Published on: Jan 7, 2019
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