Discovering Long-Lived Mutants

When Cynthia Kenyon first expressed an interest in doing research on aging, colleagues discouraged her, claiming that the process was too complicated to understand. Ignoring their pessimistic counsel, Dr. Kenyon began experimenting with the life span of the microscopic soil-dwelling roundworm, C. elegans, looking for genetic insights into the aging process.

The Packard Fellowships in Science and Engineering are designed to provide university professors like Dr. Kenyon with research funds early in their careers.

In 1993, Dr. Kenyon doubled the life span of the roundworm by altering a single gene. She also discovered that two genes are responsible for regulating aging in the roundworm, a historic finding that refuted many scientists’ belief that the aging process was not regulated by genes.

Dr. Kenyon’s discoveries have inspired new paths of research into the molecular biology of aging.  The Kenyon Lab at the University of California, San Francisco works with up-and-coming graduate students and post doctoral fellows. Other scientists have since shown that changing genes in fruit flies and mammals leads to similarly extended life spans. These advances could have implications for understanding—and extending—human life.