Genes that might have a role in protecting our ageing brains have been identified by researchers. The paper is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Ageing is a process that is mostly restricted to humans. Animals living in the wild normally die before they get to experience it: they become ‘irrelevant’ once they are no longer able to reproduce, or when they cannot transmit their genes. On the other hand, genes that confer advantageous traits for survival are passed on from generation to generation, sometimes at the expense of the individual lives that then have to bear effects pertaining to ageing. This is not the case for humans.
Humans are different from other animal species in this sense. We depend on accumulated knowledge such that an ageing person is of great importance to the group, as opposed to how the existence of animals might become pointless (irrelevant) at some point in life, as far as nature is concerned.
The new research deals with a genetic marker that might be involved in our reliance on the wisdom of older fellow humans — what would allegedly keep them protected from the adverse effects of brain ageing.
The team led by Professor Ajit Varki from the University of California-San Diego School of Medicine discovered unique human gene variants that appear to delay neurodegenerative disease among old people so that the latter are able to transmit their advice. The authors explain the genes might be protecting the elderly from becoming a burden, and also shielding the group from obtaining the erroneous information.
Dr Varki adds that the gene variants might help protect old people from dementia.
One of the genes studied codes for protein CD33 which is a receptor on the membrane of cells of the immune system and participates in averting unwanted immune responses. A specific form of this protein is suggested to have a protective effect when it comes to Alzheimer’s disease. When the levels of the protective CD33 variant was compared in humans and in chimpanzees, it was found that the former have 4 times the amount.
The authors conclude that their findings might be indicating that such protective gene variants might, in fact, be protecting the population in the ways mentioned.