Year of selection 2011
Institution Genetics and Development Institute (Inserm)
Humans can adapt to the environment, but compared to some other species, we are not that flexible. For example, we could not live at a temperature of 80°C, and we could not survive more than four days without water. However, some organisms can live at boiling water temperatures, grow under strong radiation or do without water for 10 years. We know that such species are much better at fighting deadly stress than we are, but the reason is still unknown. Prof. Miroslav Radman is focusing his research on specific death-resistant organisms to understand how they protect their life machinery from falling apart.
His aim is to gain insight on how aging, or resisting the passage of time, occurs at the molecular level. Our body is made of organs, and organs are made of cells. Therefore, when cells age, organs and organisms also age.
Aging is functional deterioration mainly due to corrosion of biomolecules caused by oxygen free radicals. Such radicals are unavoidable since they are generated when our body produces energy—which is why we need to breathe. But they can also be found in air pollutants, food, water or drugs. Luckily, our cells have protection, repair and clean-up systems to counteract molecular damage. Like a skilled surgeon, special proteins repair DNA damage and replace damaged proteins. Radman points out that aging occurs when these life-protecting proteins are themselves damaged: they cannot repair the damage that accumulates, and the whole body ages and eventually dies.
Fascinated by robust and immortal species, Radman is studying how robust cells protect and repair themselves during oxidative stress. His approach has proved original and productive: he now believes that all organisms share the same chemistry of aging—protein damage—which is also the common cause of all age-related diseases, and that we may soon be able to prevent and treat the very cause of degenerative diseases. He has uncovered the mystery of robust species: their cells produce a molecular cocktail that protects cellular machinery from oxidative damage. Once its chemical composition is known, it could be used in humans to protect against age-related diseases and eventually delay aging. A potion for eternal youth may just be one step away.
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