On the Scent: Investigating an Anti-Aging Gene Inside the Nose

This image, captured by Eric Williams, explores whether the lifespan-extending gene Sirt1 can affect the decisions made by stem cells inside the nose.

Eric Williams
Guarente Laboratory
MIT Department of Biology and Koch Institute

The gene Sir2/Sirt1 has been hypothesized to be a sort of biological fountain of youth: when overexpressed, it significantly extends the lifespan of yeast, worms, and flies. Here, researchers try to understand whether this phenomenon is due to Sirt1’s effects on stem cells.  They watch the development of a mouse embryo containing both normal stem cells (red) and stem cells lacking Sirt1 (green).  Based on the unequal distribution of colors within the mouse’s nose (seen here), it appears that Sirt1 activity can affect a stem cell’s decision as to whether to develop into an olfactory neuron.

Eric Williams tells the story behind his award-winning image.