Study: Genetic Variation Programs Some People to Age Faster

By Andrew Moseman | February 8, 2010 12:34 pm

geneticsThere’s your chronological age, the number that creeps depressingly upward with each passing birthday, and then there’s your biological age, associated with the condition of your body. In a study this week in Nature Genetics, a British team discovered a link between a particular genetic variation and people being several years older in their biological age.

Says study leader Nilesh Samani: “What we studied are structures called telomeres which are parts of one’s chromosomes. Individuals are born with telomeres of certain length and in many cells telomeres shorten as the cells divide and age” [Press Association]. Some people, however, are born with shorter telomeres to begin with, which sets them up to age faster, biologically speaking, and could put them at greater risk for age-related diseases.

Samani’s team studied 500,000 genetic variations, and they keyed on one near a gene called TERC. In a study of nearly 3,000 people, around 38% inherited one copy of the gene variant and were biologically three to four years older than those who did not carry the sequence [The Guardian]. An smaller minority, about 7 percent, had two copies of the gene variant, and the researchers say those people were biologically six or seven years older than people without the variant.

Coauthor Tim Spector says, “What our study suggests is that some people are genetically programmed to age at a faster rate” [BBC News]. The reason, they surmise, could be that the sequence hinders TERC. Normally the gene makes an enzyme called telomerase to repair one’s telomeres, but if this genetic variation causes people to make less of the enzyme while in the womb, they could be born with shorter telomeres.

So what now? Even if Spector and Samani are correct, they say that you can’t just boost telomerase to fix the problem because it carries the risking of causing cancer. However, the genetic sequence could be caught sooner rather than later. The work is expected to pave the way for screening programmes to spot people who are likely to age fast and be more susceptible to heart problems and other conditions early in life [The Guardian].

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Image: iStockphoto

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
MORE ABOUT: aging, DNA, genetics, telomeres
  • Joseph Smidt

    Very interesting. Sometimes I wish I could have my genes “tested” to see what issues I may or may not be likely to have. However, another part of me is a little terrified of what I may learn.

  • Chris the Pragmatist

    Joseph I agree. Sometimes I would just rather experience it than find out that in 20 years I may have cancer. Knowing me I would be a worry wart for 20 years and die of cardiac arrest before the cancer could set in.

    It is amazing what we are finding out about EVERYTHING right now but sometimes, information overload for me.

  • Diary of a 40 year old junkie

    I went to my 20 year reunion a couple of years ago. I had no idea how well I was aging relative to my classmates, as I usually hang out with the 26-32 year old partier crowd. I drink, smoke pot and cigs, but only do coke on a weekly basis. My only drug rule is no needles and I physically wear down my 24-26 year old girlfriends in bed. I haven’t had a flu or cold in two years, seldomly sick more than that often anyway. I don’t mind being around sick people, as I don’t catch anything. I ‘ve been exposed to Herpes I&II, genital warts, and even hepatitis but never had more than sleepless nights worrying about symptoms that never occurred.
    There is always the chance that I could be a shedder or broadcaster of the bugs I’ve been exposed to, but I prefer to think that going down on me has been more of an inoculation than a hazard. To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never infected anyone with a STD.

    Anyway, I owe it all to my sober miserly grampa that almost made it to 100 years of age. I figured that if the miserable prick made it that way for a century, I could live it up and make 80, right?

  • Jumblepudding.

    I wonder if there is a correlation between someones ancestry and the presence of the gene. One would think that there were some some groups living in areas where resources were plentiful and families benefited from having the knowledge of elders, and there were less bountiful areas where humans adapted to live fast and die young to make room for their descendants.
    Don’t know if acting 24 when you are 40 is anything to brag about, regardless of how great your telomeres are.

  • Foo

    I would have included a brief explanation of what a telomere is because it’s very understandable to a general audience. Without that the article is a little abstract.

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    Thanks for the blog loaded with so many information. Stopping by your blog helped me to get what I was looking for. I


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