Suspended Animation: How the African Killifish Could Help Stop Ageing in Humans

Posted on 21 February 2020

The African killifish has an unusual and intriguing ability: as an embryo, it can enter a state of suspended animation called diapause. This could have evolved as a response to environmental pressures such as drought, allowing the killifish to pause its development and survive for years – longer than their adult lifespan – until conditions improve.

Now, research published in the journal Science has uncovered how the killifish achieves this state – by regulating the activity of genes controlling organ development, metabolism, and muscle preservation. This was achieved mainly by chromatin regulators: proteins that influence gene activity by controlling how DNA is packaged.

It is interesting to speculate whether a state like diapause could be induced in humans to extend their lifespan. Authors suggest a deeper understanding of the phenomenon could at least help elucidate the general mechanisms that preserve cells and slow ageing.

One can hypothesise that turning on a “diapause-like” state – or tapping into the molecular machinery of diapause – in some adult tissues or cells could help preserve them long-term. We think it’s interesting from a fundamental point of view to understand how the accumulation of the damage due to the passage of time can be stopped or suspended. Diapause offers us a way to understand this,

Professor Anne Brunet, Stanford University
Davis, N. (2020). African killifish may hold key to stopping ageing in humans. Retrieved 21 February 2020, from https://www.theguardian.com/science/2020/feb/20/african-killifish-may-hold-key-to-stopping-ageing-in-humans


Vertebrate diapause preserves organisms long term through Polycomb complex members: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/367/6480/870

Watch African killifish embryos enter suspended animation to survive: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/02/watch-african-killifish-embryos-enter-suspended-animation-survive

African killifish may hold key to stopping ageing in humans: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2020/feb/20/african-killifish-may-hold-key-to-stopping-ageing-in-humans

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