CRI Last Publications - A major advance in the understanding of aging processes: The Bacterial model

Sep 02, 2019

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How evolution and chance jointly define cell ageing and population longevity.

Two main explanations, seemingly in contradiction, are often used to describe the ageing processes of living organisms:

  • Ageing as a stochastic process of damage accumulation and redundancy reduction;
  • Ageing as part of a life-history strategy refined by natural selection.

These two theoretical postulates make quantitative predictions about how ageing increases the probability of death that could be validated experimentally. Although the two theories are not restricted to metazoans,  most research on the different ageing processes of living organisms has been focused on animal models. However, using a simple bacteria, Escherichia coli, as a model organism for studying the mechanisms of ageing would have many advantages:

  • work on an organism with well-known physiology and potentially short lifespan;
  • experiment on clonal populations to neutralize genetic diversity effects;
  • Experiment in controlled, homogeneous environment, identical for all experiments.
  • follow the entire life cycle of the organisms studied.
  • Increase significantly the size of the cohorts followed;

In an article just published in Science Advances, Drs. Yifan Yang, Ariel Lindner and collaborators (INSERM and CRI, University of Paris) describe E. coli ageing dynamics under the prism of both theories of ageing by focusing on the dynamics of death probabilities. They show that the Gompertz law of exponential ageing already observed in humans (and other animals) is also applicable to protozoans such as E. colibacteria.

The interdisciplinary team developed a novel lab-on-chip approach at the submicron scale for the isolation and observation of thousands of individual bacteria throughout their life in real time (see image).   By dissociating the aging rate from age-independent components of longevity, the researchers demonstrated that increasing investment in cell maintenance through the general stress response pathwayreduces the ageing rate and influences the distribution of lifespan at the expense of cell growth.

This trade-off between ageing and growth underlies the evolutionary adaptation of aging rates to the bacterial  ‘feast or famine’ bacterial lifestyle and environment (see image).

Taken together, the study demonstrates that both natural selection and stochastic physiology are needed to explain ageing processes.This study paves way for new interdisciplinary research opportunities, combining systems biology, evolution biology and population dynamics to expand the results of this study to higher living organisms. It would lead to further understanding of the fundamental mechanism underlying the universal Gompertz signature of ageing.

This study was conducted as part of the Axa Chair for a systems approach to individual differences in longevity.

Graphic Support

[Left] Feast-and-Famine Lifestyle of E.Coli    
[RIght]  (A) Lab-On-Chip cellular array (blue bacteria kept in individual chambers under flow (B) Cellular array – top view (green/red – live/dead cells; white bar scale = 10 microns (C) time series of four cells (D)  E.coli survival curve (time in hours). Video available on demand.

About CRI

The Center for Research and Interdisciplinarity  (CRI) experiments and spreads new ways of learning, teaching, conducting research and mobilizing collective intelligence at crossroads of life, learning and digital sciences to tackle the world challenges. CRI promotes innovative pedagogy by putting the students at the heart of their own learning through research educational experience in various programs, from pre-school to PhD including lifelong learning, together with Université de Paris. At the heart of CRI activity are the “IIFR -Innovative Institute” Labs  to advise, design, prototype and produce tools for research projects and innovative pedagogy.

CRI Collaboratory, affiliated to Université de Paris,  aims at transcending barriers between disciplines, science and the society by facilitating the transition from closed scientific enquiry to an  open science model. Collaboratory Research Fellows pursue research projects to tackle the world’s health and education challenges, amenable to bridge foundational research and societal impact, focusing on: Open health (from data-rich research to development of frugal software and hardware solutions), Open synthetic and systems biology (from foundational understanding of living systems to open biotech and open pharma solutions), Open learning  (from understanding learning to human-machine paradigms),  Open AI (Understanding and shaping current digital transition in context of learning, health and/or human-machine paradigms) and Open phronesis(tackling ethical challenges of our time).

CRI community with over 40 researchers, 350 students and 1000 alumni is located in its autonomous building at the heart of Paris. It was founded by François Taddei and Ariel Lindner in 2005 to create an open environment where students, partners and researchers can collaborate together to build a world where lifelong learning is at the heart of our society.

The Bettencourt Schueller Foundation has been a strategic long term partner since  RI was created. CRI is accompanied by a wide range of partners as Paris City Hall and is supported by grants from Axa Foundation, European Union, “les programmes d’investissements d’Avenir”, Agence National de la Recherche, MSD Avenir.

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Inserm, From science to health


Inserm, the French National Institute of Health & Medical Research is the only public sector research institution in France exclusively dedicated to human health. Under the dual aegis of the Ministries of Health and Research, Inserm has a budget of M€ 957 and employs 15,000 scientists, engineers and technicians all with one shared objective, namely to promote health—by advancing knowledge about living organisms and their diseases, developing innovative treatment modalities and conducting research on public health.


Inserm has more than 350 research units spread across France and internationally. These are supported by 13 Regional Commissions for local oversight. Scientific activities are organized around 9 “Inserm Thematic Institutes”, corresponding to the main fields of biomedical and health research.


Inserm is in the leading academic biomedical research institution in Europe with more than 13,000 publications a year; it is only second in the world (behind the American National Institutes of Health)

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About Université de Paris

Resulting from the merger of Paris Descartes and Paris Diderot Universities and the incorporation of the Institut Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP), the Université de Paris was officially founded on 20 March 2019 by publication of a decree in France’s Official Journal.

One year after earning the “Initiative of Excellence” label, the Université de Paris is the fruit of a joint effort between its founding institutions. It is transforming the higher education landscape in Paris. Paris Diderot and Paris Descartes Universities will continue to exist until 31 December 2019. During this transition period, the organisations will gradually merge. This will particularly impact administrative aspects, where the groundwork is already being laid in anticipation of the upcoming changes.

The new institution’s first major action will be to establish its governance. Gilles Pécout, Chief Education Officer for the Academy of Paris and University Chancellor, has assigned this mission to Françoise Moulin-Civil, who will be the acting Administrator until a president is elected.

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Press Contacts:

Victoria Maria Diez : 
Tel. +33 188 328 389

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