Mutations could let humans live for 500 years

Scientists have found a way to lengthen worms' lives so much, if the process works in humans, we might all soon be living for 500 years.

They've discovered a "double mutant" technique, when applied to nematode worms, makes them live five times longer than usual.

On their own, one of the mutations - in the insulin signalling pathway - doubles their lifespan, while the other - known as the TOR pathway - adds 30 percent. But together, something magical happens. 

"The synergistic extension is really wild," said Jarod Rollins of the United States' MDI Biological Laboratory.

The effect isn't one plus one equals two, it's one plus one equals five."

Nematode worms are often used in research into aging, because their short lifespans - only a few weeks - mean results can be gathered quickly.

And before you dismiss the research because it was done on worms, the two pathways which the mutations sit on are also present in humans.

The increase in lifespan would be the equivalent of a human living for 400 or 500 years, according to one of the scientists.

"These pathways are 'conserved', meaning that they have been passed down to humans through evolution," the research team said in a statement

"By helping to characterise these interactions, our scientists are paving the way for much-needed therapies to increase healthy lifespan for a rapidly aging population," said Hermann Haller, head of the MDI Biological Laboratory.

The pathways are what allow cells to communicate information. 

The discovery of the synergistic effect of the two different mutations is also a clue as to why scientists haven't yet been able to find a single gene responsible for longevity. 

"The discovery of the synergistic interaction could lead to the use of combination therapies, each affecting a different pathway, to extend healthy human lifespan in the same way that combination therapies are used to treat cancer and HIV," said Pankaj Kapahi of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, who contributed to the research.

The current world record for aging belongs to French woman Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997 aged 122 - though recent research has cast doubt on her claims.

The latest research was published in Cell Reports last week.