The seemingly far-away day when we could extend our life spans by up to 30 years simply by taking a pill has moved a step closer to reality with the discovery of a "longevity gene" in the common nematode worm.
Scientists have long known that a 60 per cent reduction in calorie intake, while maintaining a healthy diet of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, consistently prolongs life by up to 40 per cent -a reduction in calories required so drastic that many scientists joke that it only feels like you are living longer (the image above is the Chinese calligraphy symbol for a "long life").
That regime also reduces the risk of cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, while staving off age-related degeneration of the brain and nervous system.
The journal Nature reports that researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, have identified a critical gene in nematode worms that specifically links eating fewer calories to longer life.
Identifying this "longevity gene" opens a pathway to the development of drugs that would mimic the effects of calorie restriction and might allow people to reap the benefits without adhering to a diet that only the toughest mortals can endure.
The gene works by regulating the "sweet spot" of food consumption between the extremes of harm caused by starvation and overeating.