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June 29, 2011 • News

Random Cool Stuff: Your Saliva Can Reveal Your Age!

We know that our DNA holds the fingerprint to our entire physical makeup, but what about our age and the things that have happened to us through the years? Apparently we can even learn some of THAT through our DNA according to new research!

According to a study from UCLA:

During normal development, DNA in your body gets what’s called methylated. Small chemicals called methyl groups bind to the DNA, helping to determine which genes become active. But the patterns of methylation change as we grow older. Which was a clue that measuring methylation might give away age.

The researchers studied DNA in saliva contributed by 34 pairs of male identical twins, ages 21 to 55. They found 88 sites on the men’s DNA where the amount of methylation correlated with their ages. The scientists next verified that finding in 60 men and women, ages 18 to 70.

Then they narrowed in on two genes that had the strongest age-related correlation. And using just that data, they found that they could estimate the ages of their saliva contributors to within five years.

This is really cool stuff in purely technical terms – from the research methods to instrumentation to analysis methodology there is some great technology at play.

But who really cares aside from geeks like me?

According to the study, the researchers found that a portion of people don’t fit the correlation between the methylation and physical age. Their theory is that this discrepancy might be related to other factors that make them either more or less healthy than the bulk of the population. The call this the ‘bio-age’. From Smartplanet:

The researchers, who published their results in PLoS ONE on June 22nd, are now looking at the minority of the population in which methylation does not correlate with their actual age. This discrepancy could lead to scientists one day calculating a person’s “bio-age” — or their biological age — as opposed to their chronological age.

Doctors could use bio-age instead of chronological age to screen patients for age-related diseases. For instance, instead of requiring all 50-year-olds to undergo a colonoscopy, they would instead recommend it to patients whose bio-age was 50.

In the press release, Vilain said:

Doctors could predict your medical risk for a particular disease and customize treatment based on your DNA’s true biological age, as opposed to how old you are. By eliminating costly and unnecessary tests, we could target those patients who really need them.

This might allow for better understanding of health risks impacting certain individuals and ultimately better targeted care for all. All of that for an accidental finding in some spit.

Source: Scientific American

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