Distinguished professor and Chair of the Department of Biology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Steven N. Austad, joins the podcast to discuss his research on the biology of ageing.
Tune in to learn the following:
For over 30 years, Austad has been studying the biology of ageing. He more or less stumbled upon this area of research while conducting field work in South America on opossums; much to his surprise, he learned that the lifespan of these animals is very short—just 18 months on average—and as they age, they develop numerous ailments, including cataracts, muscle atrophy, and dental issues. This spurred Austad’s interest in the topic of ageing and compelled him to research why certain species age at the rate they do, and more broadly, why ageing occurs at all.
Austad studies traditional lab animals and unusual animals in the field, such as small bats and Arctica islandica, a species of clam that can live for over 500 years. Despite the general trend of increased life expectancy with increased size, these small animals show a fascinating ability to age successfully—even against the rigors of the wild.
By studying the process of ageing in these animals, Austad believes that insights can be gained that might inform us on how to increase human longevity. He explains one of the suspected ways in which certain species of clams, including the Arctica islandica, live so long. The key lies at least partially in the ability to regulate and maintain proper protein folding. Indeed, it is the age-related weakened ability to do this that leads to dementia and other common features of ageing in humans.
Currently, he’s working on sequencing the genomes of various species of clams that live various lengths of time with the hope that this will reveal which molecules might be involved in the protein folding process.
Learn more about Austad’s work by visiting https://www.stevenaustad.com/.