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7 Aging Processes in Caenorhabditis elegans

Heidi A. Tissenbaum, Thomas E. Johnson


Determining the underlying molecular mechanisms of aging has been the focus of many research studies during the past three decades. At the center of this research are findings derived from the nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans. From the original identification of a single mutation that can lengthen life span, through the finding that the insulin/insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) signaling (IIS) pathway specifies processes affecting life span, C. elegans has provided the basis and initial observations for much of what we currently understand about molecular mechanisms of aging.

Studies on C. elegans initially began in 1974 with the genetic map initiated by Sydney Brenner (Brenner 1974). Since then, many seminal findings on biological function have been first shown in C. elegans, including the initial dissection of programmed cell death (Ellis et al. 1991), the systematic cloning of the genome (Coulson et al. 1986), and the deciphering of the entire DNA sequence (C. elegans Consortium 1998).

C. elegans represents a relative newcomer among genetic systems used in aging studies, with few publications prior to 1982 (Epstein et al. 1974). Despite the slow start, C. elegans has emerged as a system of choice for aging research, in part because this system allows the use of extensions in life span in detecting genetic mutations. Thus far, such genetic dissection of the C. elegans aging process has identified about 200 or more genes that exhibit life span as a result of hypomorphic (reduced function) mutations. Additionally, during the...

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