Researchers have noticed that a reproduction gene that lengthened the life of a worm also made them more susceptible to infection and stress.
Typically, longevity genes help organisms to handle stress. Since this is contradictory to what is happening with the worms, this has caused a lot of confusion. The gene, TCER-1, increases the lifespan and is a must for the production of eggs and healthy worm offspring. Eliminating this gene would lead to infections in the worms.
However, in a surprising twist, the elimination of the gene actually helped the worm fight off bacterial infections twice as long as those worms that had the gene.
During this study, researchers also found that worms that had more of the TCER-1 protein were able to overcome declines in fertility, but were more open to obtaining an infection. Worms that were missing the gene were more resistant to environmental stress such as heat and radiation. These advantages only worked while the worms were of egg-laying age.
What does all this mean for humans? Right now, not much. People that have a version of this gene do not have any of the effects that worms have. Researchers do say, however, that this could be a warning signal for those involved in anti-aging therapies.
We may benefit from anti-aging therapy but could be opening ourselves up to more infections. It is something that needs to be explored further, but could serve as a promising stepping stone toward new therapies.