A California scientist who has broken new ground with her research on how genes can alter the aging process is scheduled to deliver the 2011 Takeru Higuchi Memorial Lectures at Kansas University on Oct. 6.
Cynthia Kenyon, director of the Hillblom Center for the Biology of Aging at the University of California-San Francisco, will deliver two lectures on Oct. 6, including one designed primarily for faculty and students at 11 a.m. and one designed for the public at 5:30 p.m.
Both lectures will be in Room 2020 of the School of Pharmacy building, 2010 Becker Drive. The first lecture is called “Extending the lifespan of C. elegans,” a reference to the roundworm Kenyon works with. The public lecture is called “Genes from the Fountain of Youth.”
Erik Lundquist, professor of molecular biosciences at KU, works on the same organism that Kenyon does. He also did post-doctoral work at UCSF in a neighboring lab to Kenyon’s. He said Kenyon’s research has helped shape how scientists view the aging process.
“Aging is genetically controlled,” he said. “There are genes in our genome that influence aging. It isn’t just a wear-and-tear phenomenon,” as scientists once thought.
Kenyon was able to make these determinations, Lundquist said, by working with the roundworm, which has a generational span of just a few days. By introducing mutations to genes, she was able to extend the life of the organisms significantly, he said. The work has a number of applications to humans, too, as the genes seem to do the same thing in mammals.
Kenyon is also an entertaining lecturer who can explain scientific concepts in a way the public can understand, Lundquist said.
Val Stella, distinguished professor of pharmaceutical chemistry, helps select the speakers for the series that honors Higuchi, the late KU Regents Distinguished Professor of pharmacy and chemistry. Stella said the series seeks to bring some of the best scientists in the world to the KU campus.
“She’s really at the cutting edge of the molecular biology of aging,” Stella said of Kenyon.
Kristi Neufeld, an associate professor of molecular biosciences at KU, said that Kenyon’s work on model organisms could have a large impact on what we know about ourselves and how we age.
“The beauty of it is that a lot of the discoveries that lead to our understanding of human cell behavior, human tissue behavior, are made in these model organisms, these worms, these fruit flies,” Neufeld said.