Researchers in the United States believe they have found a way to predict a person’s life expectancy, namely by looking at the rate at which genetic mutations accumulate in his or her DNA. Similarly, they can make an estimate of women’s fertility. With this information, doctors may be able to extend people’s lives in the future.
Scientists have long known that our DNA is continuously damaged by certain processes, resulting in potentially health-threatening genetic mutations.
Fortunately, there are several natural mechanisms that repair this damage and thus prevent mutations, but these mechanisms become less effective as they age, so that the mutations start to accumulate.
Live five years longer
From adolescence onwards, these mutations accumulate more quickly in everyone, but the speed of this process varies from person to person. Genetic factors play a big role in this, but much also depends on a person’s lifestyle, for example on the diet and the extent to which he or she exercises. Socio-economic factors, such as income and education, also have an impact.
According to scientists at the American University of Utah, slower accumulation of mutations increases the likelihood of a longer life. For example, if both a 32-year-old and a 40-year-old have 75 mutations, you can expect that 40-year-old to reach an older age. Young adults with a slow accumulation of mutations would live on average about five years longer than their peers, with this accumulation progressing much faster. For the study, the researchers analyzed data from three generations of 41 Utah families.
Impact on fertility
A lower mutation rate of the genes in young women could also be linked to a higher number of children that those women gave the world. Women with a lower mutation rate of the genes also had their last child on average later in life. This suggests that a higher rate of mutation has a negative impact on women’s fertility.
However, this study is too small-scale to draw large conclusions, as the number of participants was quite limited and not all types of mutations were taken into account. But if the results are confirmed, doctors could use this genetic information to determine the risk of later health problems in young adults. With innovative medical interventions and personalized lifestyle advice, DNA repair mechanisms could potentially be improved, so that people can live longer healthy lives without unforeseen circumstances.