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Scientists Discover Two Odd Ways to Potentially Reverse Aging

Secrets to Reverse Aging in Sea Squirts, Microbiota, Gut Microbes

The secrets to the Fountain of Youth may come from deep down under the sea, as told in the Epic of Gilgamesh from 4,000 years ago, as well as in the tiniest of living things deep inside our bodies.

Recently, scientists have discovered two pretty strange but interconnected ways that could potentially help reverse the aging process. In one case, a secret to rejuvenation appears to be tiny diverse microbiota inside the guts of young animals. In another case, the secret could come from eating a strange plant-like animal from the ocean.

First, Neuroscience News reported that scientists from the UK saw incredible results when they transplanted fecal microbiota (fungi, bacteria, and viruses) from young to old mice. Amazingly, vision, brain function, and gut health improved transplanting from young to old mice, but not the reverse. 

“Transplanting fecal microbiota from young mice to older mice reversed hallmark signs of aging in the gut, brains, and eyes. Transplanting the fecal microbiota from old to young mice had the reverse effect, inducing inflammation in the brain and depleting a key protein associated with healthy vision.”

Beneficial Gut Bacteria by NIH Image Gallery via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Could Microbiota Help Reverse Aging?

Potentially, gut microbe replacement therapy may offer benefits to people. Of course, scientists have known that microbiota is linked to health for a long time. However, this study has given more clarity as to why.

“The study, published in the journal Microbiome, found that the microbiota from old donors led to loss of integrity of the lining of the gut, allowing bacterial products to cross into the circulation, which results in triggering the immune system and inflammation in the brain and eyes.”

According to the article, the beneficial bacteria associated with good health in mice are the same for humans. However, the researchers caution that they must conduct studies with the elderly before predicting any outcome.

In 2021, scientists reported an extinction inside the guts of modern people. Dozens of species that used to live in the gut of ancient people 2,000 years ago have become extinct. After studying ancient paleofeces called coprolites, the scientists found that 38% were novel species no longer found. Unfortunately, the rapid shift to a modern industrial lifestyle and diet changes likely led to the extinction inside our bodies.

As with the outside world, the diversity of species inside affects overall health.

Ernst Haeckel‘s interpretation of several ascidians from Kunstformen der Natur, 1904 via Wikimedia CommonsPublic Domain

An Undersea Fountain of Youth?

Also, this week, scientists discovered the Fountain of Youth might spring from an unlikely place, deep under the ocean. There, odd-looking sea squirts may hold amazing anti-aging properties.

“Supplementing a diet with Ascidiacea, or sea squirts, reversed some of the main signs of aging in mouse models,” says a study from Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University.

In some places, people eat sea squirts. For example, in Korea, you may find a dish called meonggewhile in Japan, some enjoy a dish called hoya. 

Video by Travel Thirsty:

Can Sea Squirts Reverse Aging?

So what’s so special about this odd-looking animal that looks like a plant or fungus?

These sea organisms contain substances called plasmalogens, which are vital to our body processes. Plasmalogens are found all over our bodies naturally, particularly in the heart, brain and immune cells, but as we get older, the amount in our body decreases. This loss is also a characteristic of several neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease,” reports Science Blog.

By feeding the sea squirt-derived supplement to aging mice, the scientists say they found impressive results, including a higher number and quality of synapses in the brain.

“Our research suggests that plasmalogens may not just stop cognitive decline, but may reverse cognitive impairments in the aging brain. Additionally, aged mice fed with the plasmalogens grow new black hair that is thicker and glossier than aged mice not fed the supplement,” said Dr. Lei Fu.

Colonial ascidian by Richard Ling via Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Interconnection with Gut Microbiota

As with the studies of microbiota transplants, the sea squirt plasmogen reduced inflammation. Also, there was an interesting connection with the gut’s microorganisms.

“Some studies have shown that dietary plasmalogens affect the microorganisms in the gut,” said Dr. Fu. “It has been widely reported that the connection between the organisms in our gut and our brain influences neurodegeneration. It may be the plasmalogen’s effect on this connection that causes the improvements in learning and memory seen in this study.”

Magnificent Ascidian by Richard Ling via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. 

An Ancient Idea to Reverse Aging

Long ago, one of the oldest examples of written literature, the Epic of Gilgamesh from 2100 BC, spoke of “a plant that looks like a box-thorn,” under the ocean, which held the key to attaining youth.

“The Epic Gilgamesh was written in 2100 BC, and in it, Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh, the King of Uruk, that he will find at the bottom of the sea “a plant that looks like a box-thorn” that will make him young again. So, Gilgamesh ties rocks to his feet to enable him to walk on the seabed, takes a deep breath and wades in. He takes a piece of the ‘plant’ and resolves to test its restorative powers on an old man upon his return to Uruk,” wrote New Zealand Geographic.

Notably, parts of the 4,000-year-old story of Gilgamesh will sound strikingly familiar to anyone who has heard of the story of Noah’s Ark. (see video below)

Video by TED-Ed:

An ‘Immortal’ Animal from the Sea

Unfortunately for Gilgamesh, a serpent steals his prize, but now, it seems scientists have found a similar one in sea squirts. Recently, scientists have also studied one of the world’s only “immortal” animals from the sea, the immortal jellyfish, Turritopsis dohrnii or the Benjamin Button jellyfish.

The tiny creature is the only animal known to be able to revert to a juvenile polyp stage when stressed and then grow anew into an adult medusa, thus bypassing death “like a butterfly transforming back into a caterpillar,” according to a paper from 1996 by biologists in Genoa.

Learning the secrets of the alien-looking jelly could help fight disease in humans if not “unlock the secret to immortality.” According to one of the only experts in Turritopsis, Shin Kubota from Kyoto University: 

“The mystery of life is not concealed in the higher animals. It is concealed in the root. And at the root of the Tree of Life is the jellyfish.”

Thus, we find that improving the quality of our own lives depends very much on fully appreciating even the smallest of living things.

Video by V101 Science:

Featured image: Ernst Haeckel‘s interpretation of several ascidians from Kunstformen der Natur, 1904 via Wikimedia CommonsPublic Domain

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