Did researchers just find the long sought after fountain of youth? Turns out the little batteries inside your aging cells called mitochondria may play a key role in staying young. Like a deck of cards, staying young may be all about how your body sorts your aging cellular batteries!
Mitochondria are like little batteries inside your cells. They’re the power plants that create the power for all of the cellular machinery to operate by converting food nutrients into chemical energy. I’ve blogged before on how stem cells can give their good mitochondrial batteries to dying cells and recharge and rescue those cells from a certain death. However, the new research “ups that ante” by finding that the body, in an effort to stay as young as possible, sorts good from bad mitochondria.
The study published in the Journal Science last week looked at how stem cells divide and what happens to the mitochondria. When stem cells divide to grow more copies of themselves, they have to make new copies of and give their old contents to the new cells. The researchers recognized that old mitochondrial batteries given during cell division to one cell or the other would be less useful to the newly copied stem cell. They observed that the new stem cell that got the newer batteries maintained classic stem cell traits, while the other cell who got more old batteries was a less capable stem cell.
The implications of this discovery are huge along many fronts. First, your body could apportion the good and bad batteries equally between cells, but you would then end up with cells that had an aging power supply. The fact that your body sorts the good mitochondrial batteries into one cell seems to mean that the body would rather have one good stem cell and one poor stem cell rather than two mediocre ones. In addition, perhaps more earth shattering, is that the fountain of youth could be as simple as giving all aging stem cells new mitochondrial batteries! How to accomplish that without messing something else up may take quite awhile to figure out.
The upshot? Researchers may have stumbled on one way to harness the proverbial fountain of youth meaning it could be possible to replace aging mitochondria with new ones using stem cells. If not, then at least they figured out something very important about our aging bodies – they want to stay young as much as we do!