Subscribe to the BioNews newsletter for free

Advanced Search

Search for

Like the Progress Educational Trust on Facebook



Methylation may mediate mortality

09 February 2015

By Dr Greg Ball

Appeared in BioNews 789

Our DNA harbours a biological clock that can help predict how long a person will live, research suggests.

That biological clock is a kind of chemical change - methylation - that happens in DNA over time. Methylation is an epigenetic change, meaning that it does not alter the DNA code but rather influences whether genes will be switched on or off.

By analysing different patterns of methylation scientists can estimate a person's 'biological age'.

Four independent studies tracked the lives of 5,000 people for up to 14 years and compared biological age of blood samples with chronological age. The researchers found that a faster-running biological clock was linked with an earlier death.

The result held true even after adjusting for other factors like smoking, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Even after accounting for these and other variables, people whose biological age was five years more than their actual age were 16 percent more likely to die during the period they were tracked.

Professor Ian Deary, of the University of Edinburgh, a senior author of the study, said the research team had 'identified a novel indicator of ageing, which improves the prediction of lifespan over and above the contribution of factors such as smoking, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.'

Future research hopes to explain what is behind differences in methylation patterns.

'At present, it is not clear what lifestyle or genetic factors influence a person's biological age,' said Dr Riccardo Marioni, also from the University of Edinburgh.

'There is an ongoing project now to try to narrow down the effects of the precise relationship of biological clocks and mortality risks and what the other influences are,' he told the Daily Express.

The study was published in the journal Genome Biology.

University of Edinburgh (press release) | 05 February 2015
Independent | 30 January 2015
Genome Biology | 30 January 2015
MailOnline | 30 January 2015
The Scientist | 03 February 2015
Express | 31 January 2015


23 October 2017 - by Annabel Slater 
Weight loss, education, giving up smoking, and being open to new experiences have all been linked to longer life...
04 April 2016 - by Dr Rachel Brown 
A large international study has revealed that smoking during pregnancy may chemically alter the DNA of the developing fetus...
21 December 2015 - by Dr Ashley Cartwright 
Scientists have identified five genetic loci associated with extreme longevity...
08 June 2015 - by Dr Julia Hill 
Scientists have discovered that changes to DNA which occur during a person’s lifetime can be passed on to future generations...
23 February 2015 - by Meghna Kataria 
Scientists have unveiled a map of the human epigenome - the suite of molecular controllers which turn genes on and off in every human cell...

18 November 2014 - by Sean Byrne 
Scientists are still searching for a key piece of the longevity puzzle, having not found anything remarkable in the genes of 'supercentenarians' - people who live beyond 110 - to explain their long lives...
26 August 2014 - by Claire Downes 
Researchers have identified a connection between DNA methylation and Alzheimer's disease, gaining a further understanding into the underlying causes of this neurodegenerative condition....
04 August 2014 - by Daryl Ramai 
Scientists at the Children's Nutrition Research Center, USA have shown that epigenetic changes alone could cause cancer....
16 January 2012 - by Maria Botcharova 
Analysis of person's DNA when they are still young could provide important clues about how long they will live, if a study on zebra finches is anything to go by. Research shows that the best indicator of the birds' longevity is the length of a section of genetic code at the end of their chromosomes, called the telomere...

Be the first to have your say.

You need to or  to add comments.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

- click here to enquire about using this story.

Published by the Progress Educational Trust


Public Conference
8 December 2017

Speakers include

Professor Azim Surani

Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge

Sally Cheshire

Professor Guido Pennings

Katherine Littler

Professor Allan Pacey

Dr Sue Avery

Professor Richard Anderson

Dr Elizabeth Garner

Dr Andy Greenfield

Dr Anna Smajdor

Dr Henry Malter

Vivienne Parry

Dr Helen O'Neill

Dr César Palacios-González

Philippa Taylor

Fiona Fox

Sarah Norcross

Sandy Starr


Good Fundraising Code

Become a Friend of PET HERE and give the Progress Educational Trust a regular donation