In 1993, Cynthia Kenyon and colleagues’ discovery that a single-gene mutation could double the lifespan of the tiny roundworm C. elegans sparked an intensive study of the molecular biology of aging.
Kenyon, director of the Hillblom Center for the Biology of Aging at the University of California-San Francisco, will speak about her research at the 2011 Takeru Higuchi Memorial Lectures at the University of Kansas School of Pharmacy on Thursday, Oct. 6.
Aging had long been assumed to be a passive consequence of molecular wear and tear. Kenyon was skeptical of this idea, thinking that something as universal and fundamental as aging might well be subject to control by the genes.
Kenyon’s discoveries have led to the realization that there exist genetic control circuits for aging, involving hormones as well as proteins that regulate the activities of entire groups of cell-protective genes. The long-lived mutants Kenyon and others have identified are resistant to many age-related diseases, raising the possibility of a new strategy for combating many diseases at once and target aging itself.
Cynthia Kenyon graduated as valedictorian in chemistry and biochemistry from the University of Georgia in 1976. She received her doctorate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1981 and then did postdoctoral studies with Nobel laureate Sydney Brenner at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England, studying the development of C. elegans. Since 1986 she has been at the University of California-San Francisco Department of Biochemistry, where she was the Herbert Boyer Distinguished Professor and is now an American Cancer Society Professor.
Val Stella, distinguished professor of pharmaceutical chemistry helps select lecturers for the Higuchi series, now in its 12th year. The series namesake, Takeru Higuchi, is a former KU researcher and was known as the Father of Physical Pharmacy, Stella said.
“This title was earned during his years at the University of Wisconsin from 1946 to 1967, a period during which he produced some of the seminal work in our field, which he continued when he moved here to KU in 1967,” Stella said.
Kenyon’s first lecture, “Extending the lifespan of C. elegans,” is open to students and faculty, and it begins at 11 a.m. Her second lecture, “Genes from the Fountain of Youth,” is open to the public and will begin at 5:30 p.m. Both lectures will be in Room 2020 at the School of Pharmacy, 2010 Becker Drive.