But the biological mechanisms behind this anti-aging effect are a bit of a mystery.
"It would appear that these genes are involved in how the worm senses the environment and signals changes in metabolism in order to adapt to the environment," added Szewczyk. "For example, one of the genes we have identified encodes insulin which, because of diabetes, is well known to be associated with metabolic control. In worms, flies, and mice insulin is also associated with modulation of lifespan."
HOWSTUFFWORKS: Sydney Brenner: Mapping C. elegans' genes
HOWSTUFFWORKS: Sydney Brenner: Mapping C. elegans' genes In light of these results, he also speculated what it could mean for people who live and work in space:
"Most of us know that muscle tends to shrink in space. These latest results suggest that this is almost certainly an adaptive response rather than a pathological one. Counter-intuitively, muscle in space may age better than on Earth. It may also be that spaceflight slows the process of aging."
One interesting piece of trivia to come from this research is that these microscopic space explorers originated from a rubbish dump in Bristol, England - my hometown. Always a joy to hear that my fellow Bristolians are advancing the frontiers of mankind in space!