UCL News


Genome-based diets improve growth, fertility and lifespan

13 March 2017

In flies and mice, diets based on an organism's genome enhance growth and fertility with no costs to lifespan, according to a team of researchers from UCL and the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing in Cologne.


A moderate reduction in food intake, known as dietary restriction, protects against multiple ageing-related diseases and extends life span, but can also supress growth and fertility. To avoid these damaging effects, the scientists designed a special diet based on the genome of the model organism. 

In the study, published today in Cell Metabolism, the team calculated the amount of amino acids a fruit fly would need, thereby defining the diet's amino acid composition.

"The fly genome is entirely known. For our studies we used only the sections in the genetic material that serve as templates for protein assembly - the exons, which collectively make up the 'exome'. Then we calculated the relative abundance of each amino acid in the exome, and designed a fly diet that reflects this amino acid composition," explained George Soultoukis, who works alongside Professor Linda Partridge, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing in Cologne and at the UCL Institute of Healthy Ageing in London.

Using a chemically-defined fly diet previously developed by the team to enable manipulation of individual nutrients such as amino acids, the group found that flies eating the exome-matched diet develop a lot faster, grow bigger in size, and lay more eggs compared to flies fed a standard diet.

Remarkably, the flies on the exome-matched diet lived as long as slower-growing, fewer-egg-laying flies fed with "standard" diets. "The flies that had free access to the exome-matched diet even ate less than controls. Thus, high quality protein, as defined by the genome, appears to have a higher satiety value," said Dr Matthew Piper, who conducted the work at UCL and is now working at Monash University.

The study also found that similar phenomena may occur in mice, and future mouse work could further improve our understanding of how and why diets affect mammalian lifespan - including human lifespan.

"Our aim now is to characterize the effects of genome-based diets upon mammalian lifespan. Dietary interventions based on amino acids can be a powerful strategy for protecting human health. Obviously factors such as age, gender, health, and personal lifestyle also have to be taken into account. 

"Future studies may still employ novel -omics data to design diets whose amino acid supply matches the needs of an organism with even higher precision. Understanding why we need amino acids in the amounts we do will be key, and such studies provide novel and powerful insights into the vital interactions between nature and nurture," concluded George Soultoukis.



  • Researchers used the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster for their studies on genome-based diet (Credit: Sebastian Grönke/Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing)