Whether it is crazy schemes to upload our consciousness into computers or cutting-edge stem cell research, there is no shortage of researchers searching for ways to extend our life span. The good news: A research project offers a new way to extend the healthy years before age-related illnesses and frailty hits. The bad news: It involves exposing yourself to poop.
More specifically, it involves indole, an is an organic compound found in the gut, which helps give excrement its less-than-pleasant odor. While the unhygienic nature of bodily waste suggests that prolonged exposure would be a bad thing, a team of U.S. researchers has discovered that indole compounds actually increase the healthy life span of animals.
“We had been studying this class of molecules for the last decade and a half,” Daniel Kalman, associate professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at Emory University School of Medicine, told Digital Trends. “In particular, we were using worms, which eat bacteria, as a biosensor for small molecules produced by bacteria. We showed that bacteria that produced indoles could alter the way worms perceive stress, and we showed that this effect was caused by indoles secreted by the bacteria. Health span is defined as the capacity to live better for longer. One way that happens is to have the capacity to handle stressors. Another way is to resist normal aging. Given our data showing the stress sensitivity, we reasoned health span, in general, might be improved.”
Kalman and colleagues began this experiment by testing the effect in worms, before graduating to flies, and then mice. “We showed that animals of widely divergent phyla, and separated by hundreds of millions of years of evolutionary time, all utilize indoles to regulate how well they age,” Kalman said. “In short, indoles make older animals look younger by various metrics, including motility and fecundity.”
The team has not yet progressed to exploring how similar compounds will affect humans — and certainly is not offering any homebrew advice on ways to extend your own healthy life span.
“Animals are not so dissimilar from humans,” Kalman concluded. “Worms, for example, share roughly a third of their genes with us — and like us, they interact with bacteria. Given our data with worms and flies and mice, and observations of others that indole levels are dysregulated in people with chronic inflammatory diseases, it is not unreasonable to hypothesize that indoles likewise control health span in us. We are testing that idea in various ways, [but] it will take time and further experimental work to both test this experimentally, and to develop means to introduce or restore indoles in people to levels that are both efficacious and safe.”
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