Every now and then during the course of my hunt for new material to write about, I come across a tidbit of information that I was completely unaware of. Take, for instance, the apparent fact that all cold-blooded animals lead longer lives when living in cold environments. I had no idea. But if you think about it, that conclusion sort of makes sense. For most every chemical reaction, heat is a catalyst. That would lead me to believe that organisms living in cooler conditions experience slower chemical reactions in their body, which in turn leads to the slowing of Old Man Time.
And I’d be wrong.
That’s okay, though, because so is every other scientist who has come up with this theory, and there’s been plenty of them. They’re wrong because the cold actually seems to activate a certain active process that is regulated by genes.
The genes in question modulate a receptor known as the TRPA1 channel, found in the nerve and fat cells in roundworms – the cold-blooded animal used for this study. This chemical process is found in nerve and fat cells, and leads to a certain signaling chain that eventually reaches DAF-16/FOXO.
Don’t worry, those letters and numbers mean just as little to me as they do to you.
With a bit of googling, however, you can pretty quickly find out that DAF-16/FOXO is a gene associated with longevity. It belongs to a family of proteins that are transcription factors that regulate processes such as cell growth, proliferation, and – in effect – longevity.
The study notes that these genes exist also in mammals, including humans. So if you add two and two together, you could come up with the idea that cold weather activates similar processes in humans, leading to longer lives. After all, lowering the core body temperature of mice by less than a single degree Fahrenheit can extend its lifespan by 20 percent.
So how can this be tested on humans? Simple. It can’t. Nobody wants to lead their lives walking around with cold compresses strapped to their chest 24/7. Then again, there are plenty of people living in Minnesota. I wonder if they have longer lifespans?
As a side note, I thought I’d mention that these genetic pathways associated with longevity are also activated by eating wasabi. So it would seem that all you sushi-loving hockey players from the Great White North – and I include Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, North Dakota, and Montana in that – are setting quite pretty.
Well, from a longevity standpoint. Not so much from a cosmetic standpoint. Teeth are important.
The study, “A genetic program promotes C. elegans longevity via a thermosensitive TRP channel,” was published in the journal Cell by University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute professors Shawn Xu and Bernard Agranoff. Other authors on the paper were Rui Xiao and Yongming Dong of the Life Sciences Institute; Bi Zhang and Jianke Gong of the Life Sciences Institute and the College of Life Science and Technology at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology; Tao Xu of the College of Life Science and Technology at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology and the Institute of Biophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences; and Jianfeng Liu of the College of Life Science and Technology at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology.