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Is the secret to a long life found in a tree?

UNT researcher and professor Richard Dixon studied groups of ginkgo trees from China that were between 20 and 600 years old. He noticed an interesting trend.

DENTON, Texas — If you’re looking for the secret to a long life, the answer might lie in a tree.

That’s what a distinguished research professor at the University of Texas is studying.

In Richard Dixon's most recent study, which was published this month, he looked at groups of Ginkgo Biloba, or ginkgo trees, from China that were 20, 200, and 600 years old.

“The equivalent of the immune system in these trees is absolutely rock solid,” Dixon said.

Unlike humans, Dixon found that the immune system in ginkgo trees, which can live to be over 1,000 years old, doesn’t appear to get weaker with age.

Senior gardener Nick Esthus cares for a handful of ginkgo trees in the Japanese Garden at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden. He’s not surprised by Dixon’s findings.

“Ginkgos are really, really tough trees. They’re sort of like living fossils. They’ve been around a long time,” Esthus said. “There’s been a lot of ancient Chinese medicine that goes along with this tree so (I’m) not at all surprised.”

The Fort Worth Botanic Garden and Beijing, China aren’t the only places people can see these trees.

Esthus said ginkgo trees can survive in an urban climate and respond well to pruning so cities often plant them near streets and as part of landscapes.

As for the ginkgo trees' ability to scientifically prolong your life, Dixon said, unfortunately, our genes are already programmed to deteriorate over time through a process called senescence.

However, Dixon said some people point to the longevity of ginkgo trees and choose to incorporate ginkgo extract in their diet.

In the future, Dixon told WFAA he’s interested in studying gene mutation in ginkgo trees, hoping this sort of research could shed some light on cancer research in humans.

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