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Press Release for Wednesday, June 8, 2016

UNF Professor Awarded NIH Grant to Study Aging and Lifespan

Media Contact: Joanna Norris, Director

Department of Public Relations

(904) 620-2102

Dr. John Hatle, a professor in the Department of Biology at the University of North Florida, was awarded a grant for more than $430,000 by the National Institutes of Health to continue his research studying how a reduced diet can slow aging and extend lifespan in simple animals.


Hatle, a Southside resident, will receive $432,525 from NIH over a three-year period. He will use the funding to study the basic biology of how animals can regulate their lifespan, using grasshoppers as the main species for understanding the process in all animals.


For this project, he will use lubber grasshoppers, which are normally considered a pest and are easy to obtain in large numbers. Their large size, for an insect, makes them easy to study.


"Studying simple animals to make initial discoveries is a tried-and-true approach in biomedical research. The work is faster, and less expensive, than studying humans or even mammalian models, like mice," said Hatle.


Most animals increase their lifespan when raised on a severely restricted diet or when reproductive effort is greatly reduced. Hatle will study the relationship of these two means of life-extension.


One goal of the project is to study how reduced diet extends lifespan. "Cutting calories by 40 percent extends lifespan in most animals, but also results in a very hungry animal," said Hatle. "The internal signal, or hormone, of hunger plays a role in the longevity seen upon dietary restriction."


When an animal is very hungry, a hormone is released in the blood and stimulates the animal to feed. It also makes the animal more willing to eat food that is usually unpleasant tasting, as that may be the only food available.


Hatle and his students will test whether the hunger response, in the absence of eating unpalatable food, protects the biomolecules in the animal's cells from damage. Protecting biomolecules from such damage may be one way the hunger response leads to longevity, therefore increasing lifespan.


Another aspect of the study aims to determine whether restricted diet is working the same way as reduced reproduction in the animal to extend lifespan. Hatle says lifespan can be extended by surgically removing the ovaries from female grasshoppers. As a result, these grasshoppers reduce their feeding rate for the remainder of their life. He wants to determine if this reduction in feeding and extension of lifespan come with the same hormonal signal to reduce feeding or not.


"If the two ways of extending lifespan are not working the same way in the animal, then using both in the same individual could potentially extend lifespan even more," said Hatle.


The Department of Biology's mission is the search for understanding and knowledge through the scientific study of life and the dissemination of this information to students, the scientific community and the general public. The strength of the department lies in its broad-based academic program, collaborative efforts of faculty and its integration of undergraduates in all aspects of research.


UNF, a nationally ranked university located on an environmentally beautiful campus, offers students who are dedicated to enriching the lives of others the opportunity to build their own futures through a well-rounded education.