A high-sugar diet could lead fruit flies towards living shorter lives, according to researchers at University College London (UCL).
This shorter lifespan could be due to a poor diet affecting long-term reprogramming of gene expressio, and the findings might have broad implications for research into conditions such as diabetes that are influenced by diet.
The UCL team now hopes to investigate whether this also occurs in humans, which could help explain the mechanisms behind a high-sugar diet increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes.
“Dietary history has a long lasting effect on health, and now we know a mechanism behind this,” said lead author Dr Adam Dobso, UCL Institute of Healthy Ageing.
“We think the reprogramming of the flies’ genes caused by the high sugar diet might occur in other animals. We don’t know that it happens in humans, but the signs suggest that it could.”
Dobson and colleagues report in their study that the action of a gene called FOXO, which is important for long lifespan in several species such as flies and worms, is inhibited when flies eat a high-sugar diet early in life.
Female fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) that ate a healthy diet containing just five per cent sugar were compared to flies given eight times that amount. The experiment lasted three weeks before all flies were given a healthy diet again.
The flies given a healthy diet that had previously eaten a high-sugar diet had, on average, seven per cent shorter lifespans. This occurred because of changes in the physiology of the flies.
These molecular changes were later shown to be very similar to flies that had genetically reduced levels of FOXO, suggesting the gene is critical in diet-driven changes.
“The fact that transient high sugar accelerates aging in both species, and by the same mechanism is pretty shocking,” said co-author, Professor David Gems. “It is yet more evidence of how much we have to fear from excess sugar in the diet.”
The findings appear online in the journal Cell Reports.

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