Cynthia Kenyon

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Cynthia Kenyon
Cyntia Kenyon 01.JPG
Born (1954-02-21) February 21, 1954 (age 68)
Alma materMassachusetts Institute of Technology
Known forAging in C. elegans
AwardsNational Academy of Sciences
Dan David Prize
Scientific career
InstitutionsCalico Life Sciences, LLC; Professor emeritus University of California San Francisco (UCSF)
Doctoral advisorGraham C. Walker
Notable studentsColeen T. Murphy
Andrew Dillin

Cynthia Jane Kenyon (born February 21, 1954) is an American molecular biologist and biogerontologist known for her genetic dissection of aging in a widely used model organism, the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans. She is the vice president of aging research at Calico Research Labs, and emeritus professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).


Cynthia Kenyon graduated valedictorian in chemistry and biochemistry from the University of Georgia in 1976. She received her Ph.D. in 1981 from MIT where, in Graham Walker's laboratory, she looked for genes on the basis of their activity profiles, discovering that DNA-damaging agents activate a battery of DNA repair genes in E. coli. She 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 UCSF, where she was the Herbert Boyer Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics and is now an American Cancer Society Professor. In 1999, she co-Elixir Pharmaceuticals with Leonard Guarente to try to discover and develop drugs that would slow down the process that makes people age.[1]

In April 2014, Kenyon was named Vice President of Aging Research at Calico, a new company focused on health, well-being, and longevity. Prior to that, she served as a part-time advisor beginning in November 2013. Kenyon remains affiliated with UCSF as an emeritus professor.

Her early work led to the discovery that Hox genes, which were known to pattern the body segments of the fruit fly (Drosophila) also pattern the body of C. elegans. These findings demonstrated that Hox genes were not simply involved in segmentation, as thought, but instead were part of a much more ancient and fundamental metazoan patterning system.

Michael Klass discovered that lifespan of C. elegans could be altered by mutations, but Klass believed that the effect was due to reduced food consumption (caloric restriction).[2] Thomas Johnson later showed that the 65% life extension effect was due to the mutation itself rather than due to caloric restriction.[3] In 1993, Kenyon's discovery that a single-gene mutation (Daf-2) could double the lifespan of C. elegans and that this could be reversed by a second mutation in daf-16m,[4] sparked an intensive study of the molecular biology of aging, including work by Leonard Guarente and David Sinclair.[1] Kenyon's findings have led to the discovery that an evolutionarily conserved hormone signaling system influences aging in other organisms, perhaps also including mammals.

Kenyon has received many honors, including the King Faisal Prize for Medicine, the Association of American Medical Colleges Award for Distinguished Research, the Ilse & Helmut Wachter Award for Exceptional Scientific Achievement,[5] and La Fondation IPSEN Prize, for her findings. She is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She was President of the Genetics Society of America for 2003.[6]

Personal diet[edit]

Kenyon's research prompted her to make personal dietary changes.

In 2000, when she discovered that putting sugar on the worms' food shortened their lifespans, she stopped eating high glycemic index carbohydrates and started eating a low-carbohydrate diet.[7][8][9]

She briefly experimented with a calorie restriction diet for two days, but couldn't stand the constant hunger.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Duncan, David Ewing (August 15, 2007). "The Enthusiast". MIT Technology Review.
  2. ^ Klass MR (1983). "A method for the isolation of longevity mutants in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans and initial results". Mechanisms of Ageing and Development. 22 (3–4): 279–286. doi:10.1016/0047-6374(83)90082-9. PMID 6632998. S2CID 6870538.
  3. ^ Friedman DB, Johnson TE (1988). "A mutation in the age-1 gene in Caenorhabditis elegans lengthens life and reduces hermaphrodite fertility" (PDF). Genetics. 118 (1): 75–86. doi:10.1093/genetics/118.1.75. PMC 1203268. PMID 8608934.
  4. ^ Kenyon C, Chang J, Gensch E, Rudner A, Tabtiang R (1993). "A C. elegans mutant that lives twice as long as wild type". Nature. 366 (6454): 461–464. Bibcode:1993Natur.366..461K. doi:10.1038/366461a0. PMID 8247153. S2CID 4332206.
  5. ^ "2005 – Cynthia J. Kenyon".
  6. ^ "Past and Present GSA Officers". GSA. Archived from the original on 4 December 2018. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  7. ^ O'Neill, B (January 2004). "In Methuselah's Mould". PLOS Biology. 2 (1): E12. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0020012. PMC 322746. PMID 14758367.
  8. ^ a b Kingsland, James (18 October 2003). "I want to live forever". New Scientist.
  9. ^ Platoni, Kara (January 18, 2006). "Live, Fast, Die Old". East Bay Express. Archived from the original on March 11, 2007. Retrieved July 3, 2007.

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