"Junk" DNA is a marker of aging
Scientists have revealed the role of "junk" human DNA
This could be the key to fighting aging
For decades, 60% of the human genome was considered "garbage", since they allegedly had no or practically no special significance in the development of the organism. However, researchers from the University of Colorado (CSU) decided to prove the opposite. Scientists have discovered that part of the non-coding genetic material can be an important biological marker in the aging process. This is reported by the press release of CSU study finds clues to aging in ‘junk’ DNA.
Article by LaRocca et al. Repetitive elements as a transcriptomic marker of aging: Evidence in multiple datasets and models is published in the journal Aging Cell – VM.
Transcripts of repetitive DNA elements – transposons and other sequences – can be activated as a person grows up. "In 10-20 years, we may be able to take samples from people during a doctor's appointment and get an idea of the biological processes taking place in them in order to know how to treat them and maximize life expectancy," said CSU associate professor Tom Larocca.
To conduct the study, the scientists began by analyzing an existing data set of sequenced RNA collected from skin cells of healthy people aged 1 to 94 years. Using this analysis, the researchers found that older people had an increased number of transcripts of the main types of repeating elements. Subsequently, these results were confirmed on the basis of fluorescence microscopy of skin cells. The key conclusion of scientists is that the number of transcripts may be related to the biological age of the organism and the health of cells, which is a more representative indicator than chronological age.
"Let's say you are a smoker and are experiencing chronic stress. It is possible, even if you are only 45 years old, your biological age – the health of your cells – is 60 or 65 years old. We think that the repeated transcripts reflect this," Larocca stressed.
To study the biological age of skin cells, CSU student Alice Cavalier compared two types of skin cells: those exposed to direct sunlight and those that escaped the sun. It is assumed that the more destructive UV rays a skin cell is exposed to, the older it will be biologically. In accordance with her hypothesis, Cavalier noted a higher level of RNA repeating elements in the cells irradiated by the sun.
Researchers suspect that the reason for this process lies in the imbalance of chromatin – a complex of DNA and protein in cells that usually suppresses the production of repetitive elements – which causes transcription (transfer of genetic information from DNA to RNA) of repetitive elements.
In subsequent laboratory studies, scientists will compare the structure of chromatin in people who regularly exercise, and those who do not understand how sports affect their health, including biological aging. Other projects will address the possibility of using drugs to deter repetitive elements from transcribing.
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