An interesting bit of research has popped up that suggests that some older people have youthful DNA that the body regulates in a manner more appropriate to someone decades younger. This ties in to various mechanisms of aging, and the way that human DNA is shaped by the aging process itself. Although the implications aren’t clear yet, the discovery itself is worth examining.
In Brief: aVMPs
The analysis involves looking for something called age-related variably methylated positions (aVMPs). This sounds complex, and it is, but it can also be explained simply. Methylation is the process that turns a gene on or off, and “age-related variably” means that the way this regulatory process happens changes over the course of aging. The “position” refers to specific spots on human DNA—in other words, a gene. Therefore, an aVMP is a gene that starts getting regulated differently as we age.
In young people, DNA is regulated to express (“methylate”) the right genes at the right time. Over time, this process changes, and is an important factor in aging. The study looked at over 3,000 people to find spots on their DNA that showed differences in regulation which increased over time. This would suggest that the gene in question was being influenced by aging. From this analysis, three main findings emerged:
- 6,366 aVMPs were identified and validated
- Many of these sites seemed linked to genes that worm and mouse studies showed to be centrally connected to the aging process
- The discovery of youthful DNA in otherwise older people
The young DNA discovery is one of the more interesting findings. Basically, the researchers noticed that the age-related disruptions in DNA regulation were not equal among all participants, sometimes drastically so. There were certain individuals, for instance, whose DNA showed regulation patterns more appropriate for a 25-year-old. This suggests that a genes characteristic of aging may not need to be as active as they are in many people.
What This Means
The finding of youthful DNA in older people is interesting, but right now it isn’t more than that. The research is currently at the “this is neat, now what does it mean?” stage. The next step in the research is to try and see whether the people who have younger DNA are healthier or are more likely to have increased longevity, among other possible effects. Also of interest is finding out whether having younger DNA affects the risk of cancer, but again this requires more investigation.
Slieker, R., et al., “Age-related accrual of methylomic variability is linked to fundamental ageing mechanisms,” Genome Biology, 2016; 10.1186/s13059-016-1053-6.