Starfish find could lead to ‘fountain of youth’

Starfish find could lead to 'fountain of youth’
A starfish. Photo: By Alain Feulvarch via Wikimedia Commons
Researchers at the University of Gothenburg in western Sweden have discovered that starfish which reproduce through cloning age much more slowly than those which reproduce sexually.

This reason for this anomaly has been located in the starfishes' telomeres. Telomeres are lengths of DNA found at the ends of chromosomes. They protect genetic data, make it possible for cells to divide, and hold some secrets to how humans age and develop cancer.

Each time a cell divides the telomeres shorten in length. As they shorten so we age, says Helen Nilsson Sköld, of the University of Gothenburg, one of the researchers behind the study.

Starfish, unlike us humans, can reproduce both through cloning and sexually. When starfish clone the telomeres of the newly formed tissue emerge longer than the old tissue.

“You can say that there is a rejuvenation of the telomere when new tissue is formed during cloning as opposed to sexual reproduction,” says Nilsson Sköld.

The researchers have even identified the ingredient for the starfish’s fountain of youth – an enzyme called telomaris. The function of telomaris is to regulate telomeres in the cloning process. It is absent when sexual reproduction occurs.

However, we shouldn’t get too excited about the prospect of living until the 22nd century. Despite a raft of claims, there ­hasn't been any confirmed human clone created to date. The fountain of youth still runs dry. But for how long?