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Researchers may have found a switch in our body responsible for healthy aging. According to researchers at Salk Institute, cells have a “switch” responsible for cell reproduction even at an old age. Organs like liver or lungs will still renew despite other parts of the body getting old. The study is published in September 19 issue of Genes and Development.

Senior author Vicki Lundblad, professor and holder of Salk’s Ralph S. and Becky O’Connor Chair says: “Previous studies had suggested that once assembled, telomerase is available whenever it is needed. We were surprised to discover instead that telomerase has what is in essence an ‘off’ switch, whereby it disassembles.”

Lundblad and Timothy Tucey focused their research on yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the one used for making wine and bread. Before this experiment, Lundblad’s team experimented with single-cell organisms to identify the mechanisms used by telomerase and create the foundation for similar research in human body.

Tucey said: “We wanted to be able to study each component of the telomerase complex but that turned out to not be a simple task.” Tucey took an innovative approach allowing him to identify each component during cell reproductive process using a high resolution.

To everyone’s surprise, authors noticed that after full assembly of telomerase, it experienced a rapid disassembling process, as if the switch had turned to the off position. Erosion of telomerase is a normal process in normal cells, contributing to the aging process. Cancer cells, however, seem to possess high levels of telomerase responsible for unrestricted cell growth. It is possible Tucey and Lundblad discovered an “off” switch which may reduce telomerase activity to normal levels.