Genetics and Aging

Tony Parks in Lab

Continuing the search for the fountain of youth: examining free radicals in the aging process and methods to increase longevity

Assistant Professor of Biology, Dr. Tony Parkes’ primary research interests involve the genetics and molecular biology of aging. Parkes is studying how aging is affected by oxygen free radicals, toxic forms of oxygen generated as a byproduct of normal cellular metabolism. Oxygen free radicals are unstable molecules that can react quickly with other atoms and molecules, causing damage to living tissues. It is the accumulation of such damage that is believed be the root cause of the aging process, and lead to specific age-related diseases as well as general functional decline. Parkes discovered that the motorneuron is a lifespan-limiting tissue in the model organism, fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster). As well, he found that a particular enzyme which metabolizes free radicals (SOD1) performs a critical function in protecting this tissue. This work has shown that overexpressing that enzyme in the motorneurons of fruit flies increases longevity by 40 per cent.

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 Drosophila as a model of chronic oxidative stress will provide clues to the mechanisms of aging and age-related disease in other organisms, including humans.