Healthy fat’s longevity link

Number of lipid droplets predicts lifespan of lab worms

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Researchers studying tiny transparent worms have identified a cellular connection between lifespan and healthy fats known as monounsaturated fatty acids.

The findings reported in May 2023 in Nature Cell Biology hint at the complex relationship between diet, fats and longevity.

“Fats are generally thought to be detrimental to health,” said Anne Brunet, PhD, the study’s senior author and the Michele and Timothy Barakett Endowed Professor. “But some studies have shown that specific types of fats, or lipids, can be beneficial.”

The researchers learned that roundworms fed foods rich in the fat building block oleic acid, a key component of the Mediterranean diet, lived about 35% longer than those on standard rations. 

They also found that oleic acid raises the number of two cellular structures — lipid droplets and peroxisomes — and protects cells’ membranes from damage by oxidation. Surprisingly, lipid droplets served as a de facto crystal ball for predicting the number of days each animal would live.

“The number of lipid droplets in individual worms tells me that animal’s remaining lifespan,” said research scientist Katharina Papsdorf, PhD, the study’s lead author. “The worms with greater numbers of lipid droplets live longer than those with fewer droplets.”

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Krista Conger

Krista Conger is a Senior Science Writer in the Office of Communications. Email her at

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