In an age where living longer is highly sought-after, who would have guessed that a common yellow dye might hold the promise of living a longer life? In a study conducted recently, nematodes’ life spans were extended by 60% when they ate thioflavin T, an artificial yellow dye that is suddenly presenting the world with the potential secret to long life. Thioflavin T is also known simply as Basic Yellow 1. A study researcher, molecular geneticist, and professor at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in California named Gordon Lithgow said that healthy nematodes have specific proteins that are folded into complicated shapes, but as they age, the shapes begin to unfold themselves. What Basic Yellow 1 does is help prevent the unfolding of these protein structures.
In this study, where the unlikely combination of worms and yellow dye were studied, the nematodes were fed bacteria on an agar, which is a viscous material used to grow cells on. The bacteria were infused with between 50 to 100 micrograms of this common yellow dye and fed to the nematodes throughout the duration of their adult lives. Normally, a nematode will live between 16 and 20 days. However, the secret to long life began to reveal itself quite clearly when the nematodes fed the yellow dye lived 5 to 10 days longer than average.
While this experiment of worms and yellow dye is an exciting prospect for unveiling the secret to long life, the results have only been seen in worms so far. It is far too early in the experimentation phase to explore the effects of Basic Yellow 1 in humans and the aging process. Still, anti-aging research is exciting no matter how far along the experiments are. Lithgow said that through the experiment, researchers were able to “demonstrate that a small molecule can maintain protein homeostasis, and that’s a big deal.” Finding compounds that can help the body maintain protein homeostasis is very encouraging for finding a solution to age-related diseases that humans suffer from, Lithgow continued.
Conditions like Alzheimer’s disease are characterized by the damage of proteins located in the brain. The fact that unfolding proteins in worms relates to their aging process reveals much about how proteins might play a role in human aging. The idea for the study was inspired by the fact that doctors already use this synthetic yellow dye to spot the difference between healthy brains and those with Alzheimer’s disease in PET scans. The difference is possible to see because the yellow dye binds to substances in the brain called amyloid plaques, which can then be seen on a PET scan.
The next step in the study, Lithgow said, is to test the Basic Yellow 1 dye on mice and see what results are found. Exploring the secret to long life in different species will help to enhance the scientist’s confidence in their findings.