Nature has what must be the least appetizing life-extension program yet discovered:
The findings were posted to the bioRxiv.org preprint server on 27 March1 by Dario Valenzano, a geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing in Cologne, Germany, and his colleagues.
So-called ‘young blood’ experiments that join the circulatory systems of two rats — one young and the other old — have found that factors coursing through the veins of young rodents can improve the health and longevity of older animals. But the new first-of-its-kind study examined the effects of ‘transplanting’ gut microbiomes on longevity.
To test whether the changes in the microbiome had a role in ageing, Valenzano’s team ‘transplanted’ the gut microbes from 6-week-old killifish into middle-aged 9.5-week-old fish. They first treated the middle-aged fish with antibiotics to clear out their gut flora, then placed them in a sterile aquarium containing the gut contents of young fish for 12 hours. Killifish don’t usually eat faeces, Valenzano notes, but they would probe and bite at the gut contents to see whether it was food, ingesting microbes in the process.
The transplanted microbes successfully recolonized the guts of the fish that received them, the team found. At 16 weeks of age, the gut microbiomes of middle-aged fish that received ‘young microbes’ still resembled those of 6-week-old fish.
The young microbiome ‘transplant’ also had dramatic effects on the longevity of fish that got them: their median lifespans were 41% longer than fish exposed to microbes from middle-aged animals, and 37% longer than fish that received no treatment (antibiotics alone also lengthened lifespan, but to a lesser extent).
And at 16 weeks — old age, by killifish standards — the individuals that received young gut microbes darted around their tanks more frequently than other elderly fish, with activity levels more like 6-week-old fish. By contrast, gut microbes from older fish had no effect on the lifespans of younger fish, Valenzano and his team report.