When a gene that increases lifespan in the worm Caenorhabditis elegans is deleted, the worms fight off a bacterial infection for twice as long as worms with the gene, researchers report in a study published today (July 17) in Nature Communications. The gene TCER-1 is needed for producing eggs and healthy offspring. But the study found that expression of the gene during the fertile stages of life may make the worms more vulnerable to pathogens and external stressors.
Longevity-associated genes generally help organisms deal with stress, coauthor Arjumand Ghazi of the University of Pittsburgh tells Science News. Ghazi and her collaborators previously reported that TCER-1 increases C. elegans’ lifespan, and they expected to find other benefits for it in the current study. Then they saw the results, “I was sure I'd made a mistake somewhere,” says coauthor Francis Amrit of the University of Pittsburgh in a press release. “But I repeated the experiments and realized that TCER-1 was unlike any other longevity gene we'd seen before—it was actually suppressing immune resistance.”
The research team found that the advantages of missing the TCER-1 gene only apply during the worms’ early life, before they reach reproductive age, suggesting that the gene directs resources toward boosting fecundity. “During its reproductive age, TCER-1 tunes all the molecular dials to ensure that the animal reproduces efficiently to propagate the species, partly by diverting resources meant for stress management,” says Amrit in the press release.
The findings suggest that loss of TCER-1 could promote better health in C. elegans, although how it regulates fertility, longevity, and stress responses is still unclear. Princeton University’s Coleen Murphy, who was not involved in the work, tells Science News, “In a lot of ways, reproduction and longevity are opposite one another, and this is underscored by these findings.”
Chia-Yi Hou is an intern at The Scientist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.