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As a research group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing in Cologne, Germany, Dario Valenzano is trying to understand the molecular and genetic bases underlying differences between lifespans and ageing processes of different species, and how we might be able to manipulate our own.

In this episode, you will learn:

  • Why the daughters of older fathers have a slighter shorter lifespan than those of younger fathers
  • How the shortest-lived vertebrate known to exist might shed light on human evolution and the development of human disease in late life
  • How microbiota composition in the gastrointestinal tract changes during ageing

Some species live for just a few hours, while others live for thousands of years. Why and how have species evolved such different lifespans, and how might the answer to these questions allow us to increase our own longevity and reduce the risk of many diseases? These questions form the cornerstone of the research being carried out by Valenzano and his group.

As a model organism for this research, the team is using the African turquoise killifish, which is the shortest-lived vertebrate known to exist. This fish lives approximately four months both in the lab and in its natural environment. In studying how this species evolved to be so short-lived, they have found that Darwinian selection has little to do with it; rather, Valenzano says its short lifespan came about as a mere accident.

For this type of fish, there is little advantage to being long-lived, and without selective pressure to survive for a long time, selection doesn’t act to remove deleterious mutations in late life. Valenzano explains what this might reveal about human evolution, and in particular, late-life weakened selection in humans that fails to remove deleterious mutations which result in diseases like dementia.

Valenzano also discusses their research on the microbiome of fish, mice, and humans, which includes a look at how the microbiome changes over time and during the ageing process, and how microbes interact with the immune system during the ageing process.

Tune in for the full conversation and visit https://www.age.mpg.de/science/research-laboratories/valenzano/ to learn more.

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