Named for a figure in Greek mythology, the gene called klotho has stirred controversy since 1997, when a mouse study hinted that it has a role in aging. Now, an analysis of three human populations reveals that a certain pattern of klotho variants is more prevalent in elderly people than in newborns, suggesting that the gene influences human aging or specific age-related illnesses.
"This new study makes me take the claim that it may be important to aging more seriously," says George M. Martin of the University of Washington in Seattle, who has been skeptical about klotho's role.
The gene first drew attention when Japanese scientists accidentally disabled it in a strain of mice. The animals seem normal for a few weeks after birth but then develop problems that include arteriosclerosis, infertility, emphysema, and low bone mass. They die within 8 or 9 weeks, whereas normal mice live 2 to 3 years.