02/06/2014 12:47 pm ET | Updated Feb 06, 2014

Fruit Flies Could Provide Clues On Aging, Study Finds

DEA / A. CALEGARI via Getty Images

A new discovery has brought us a step closer to understanding the link between neurodegenerative disorders and aging.

Researchers from Rutgers University, Camden and the University of Pennsylvania looked at aging in fruit flies to determine what causes diseases like Alzheimer's and Huntington's to develop with age. Their study reveals that as flies get older, the patterns of their microRNAs -- molecules that carry genetic information -- change.

Their microRNAs are more likely to bond with the second of two protein complexes, which dictate gene expression and affect aging. "Studies have shown that there is some change in the microRNA population with age, but no one was sure how they were partitioned with the protein complexes," researcher Ammar Naqvi said in a release.

Researchers often use fruit flies to help understand age-related diseases. A recent study at the University of Houston found that fruit flies actually have similar brain function to humans when it comes to memory formation and storage -- which could be useful in finding a cure for dementia. Another study revealed that making simple changes to the diet of a fruit fly can not only reverse memory loss but actually improve their learning abilities.

While neurodegenerative diseases are often associated with aging, researchers at Rutgers say theirs is the first study to show why. "This tells us that there are different mechanisms of regulation in different stages of development. Is aging a byproduct of development?" said Andrey Grigoriev, professor of biology at Rutgers. "I cannot tell you. It's possible that this could be relevant for other diseases."


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