Nov. 1 Ullas Kothus, a researcher at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research used the Chai and Why? outreach program’s platform to expound the relationship between diet and aging. Charismatic and witty, Kothus educated and entertained the Prithvi-cafe goers with a light-hearted talk that not only shared the importance of a healthy diet but the ways of increasing lifespan. He also attempted to clarify and answer questions like, “Why do we age and why do morbid diseases run into old age? What has our lifestyle and food got to do with aging? Do diseases like obesity, diabetes, neurodegeneration, and cancer have anything in common?” By the end of the talk, he left the audience with food for thought!
Kothas began the talk with a general overview of diseases. He expounded on the different types of diseases – communicable diseases like fever and chicken pox and non-communicable diseases like Alzheimers and cancer. From there, he really delved into the subject matter and drew connections between aging and characteristics of non-communicable diseases.
Merely using his PPT merely for reference, Kothas spoke about diet and how it affected the aging process. He effortlessly explained the differences between diet-based perturbations and genetic perturbations. His talk was effortless and the younger and older generation were engaged by his charismatic personality.
Have you ever wondered why elephants and lions don’t come down with obesity?
Amongst such heavy and dense subject matter, Kothus unabashedly joked and interacted with the younger and older generations with puerile and humorous explanations. Talking about evolution, he spoke about our evolutionary aim – to survive and sustain our race by procuring babies. Using analogies, he explained that humans were dispensable after reproduction, which is why they began to age. Thus, he concluded that aging was like a disease but it was inevitable.
Kothas and his assistants even organized a lucky draw, where winners could find out their biological age using a machine that looked a lot like a weighing machine. It took into account all kinds of factors such as BMI, visceral fat, adipose tissue fat and BMR. This piqued the older generation’s interests, and they eagerly queued up. While this was happening, Kothas also shed light on the difference between lifespan and healthspan. Ideally, humans would want their healthspan to extend for most of their life as seen in figure 1. Kothas shared tips for this:
- Fasting: Kothas could stress enough about fasting. His research had proven that the gene that processes food also controls aging to a certain extent. The results showed that fasting and eating food has an indirect relationship in that fasting once in a week actually prolonged one’s lifespan.
- Excercise: We already know about the benefits of exercising, so this wasn’t a huge shocker! However, Kothas did put up a good argument that made you want to jump out of your seat and go for a quick jog!
Biology is like the pandora’s box.
Kothas also shared insightful, eye-opening and profound thoughts (like the one above) that made his talk all the more meaningful. You could see his passion for organismal aging, and that just added another element of sincerity to his talk.
Prof. Ullas ended his talk by briefly outlining the results of his research paper. He also spoke about the implications of his paper in the biology field of study. He went on to talk about gene expression and modifications of genes using CRISPR gene editing to create designer babies!
Having never enjoyed biology, I eagerly went home to research more about metabolism and its relationship with diet and aging. Kothas piqued my interests because he explained the concepts with brevity and enthusiasm. He also kept the talk light-hearted and interesting by cracking jokes and interacting with the audience. This was one of my favorite Chai and Why? talks and I truly hope that he gives another talk in the near future!
Learn more about Ullas Kothus:
Research paper: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jne.12397/abstract
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