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Functional genomics to find new ways to extend lifespan and preserve neurological function with age

Sayan Mitra, Thang Khuong, Teleri Clark, Yana Wilson, Noman Bakhshi, Mark Bugno, Jiangling Cao and Gregory Neely

The Dr. John and Anne Chong Lab for Functional Genomics
Charles Perkins Centre and School of Life & Environmental Sciences
The University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

The world will soon have more older people than children and more people at extreme old age than ever before. Ageing whilst a normal biological phenomenon, is associated with several debilitating conditions including age-related cognitive decline. These changes occur in concert with brain shrinkage, and culminate in death. Here we investigate new molecular mechanisms that control lifespan, brain shrinkage, and age-related cognitive decline. We used human genomics data to identify conserved factors implicated in neurological aging, and then functionally tested each candidate for a role in neurological aging in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. Using neuronal-specific gene targeting, we have identified multiple novel genes that, when targeted, result in significantly enhanced lifespan. We are now in the process of investigating if any of these new neuronal ageing factors also prevent brain shrinkage or age-related cognitive decline, and will define the molecular mechanisms involved. Together this work will lead to a better understanding of how our brains age, and may help us devise new strategies to preserve cognitive function and extend productive life for our aging population.