April 19, 2017
It loses its pigments, its motor skills and mental faculties decline, it gets cancer – the turquoise killifish (Nothobranchius furzeri) struggles with the same signs of old age that affect many other living creatures. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing in Cologne have studied the effect of intestinal microbiota on ageing and lifespan. Their results show that older animals remain active for longer and live longer if they receive the intestinal bacteria of younger members of the species. The results suggest that microorganisms in the gut affect the ageing of an organism.
The turquoise killifish is just a few months old when physical decline sets in. The African fish undergoes all the developmental stages, from hatching to dying, at speed and thus represents the ideal model organism for ageing research. Its short lifespan is comparable to that of the nematode worm C.elegans and the fruit fly Drosophila, which the researchers also studied for signs of ageing. In contrast to both of these, the killifish is a vertebrate and thus more closely related to humans than insects and worms. It means that scientists can obtain information from this fish that would otherwise take years to obtain from other vertebrates.
The turquoise killifish's gut microbiota is similar in its diversity and composition to that of humans. The microorganisms in the intestines affect the absorption of food, the metabolism and the immune system. As is the case with humans, ageing affects the composition of the microbial community: while many different species of bacteria ensure a healthy gut when young, this diversity not only diminishes in old age but the existing bacteria also contain a larger proportion of pathogens.
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