Unlocking the Secrets of Aging

Jun 23, 2014

The signs of aging are clearly visible, hair turns gray, wrinkles appear. But scientists at Virginia Tech think they’ve found a new way to measure aging on the cellular level. 

It could lead to new ways to diagnose and determine the causes of certain illnesses.

The human genome project began in 1990. It took ten years and 3 billion dollars, but today, that same kind of gene sequencing can be done for just thousands.  That’s opened the way for scientists to learn more about how genes function.  A team at Virginia Tech has found evidence to suggest a person’s genome changes over time.  It’s not the same one you were born with. They took skin samples gathered years apart and sequenced them.

“And we saw that over time they acquired hundreds to thousands of variants in their genes and that these variants are within genes that are implicated in cancer and various other diseases of the aged," says Geneticist Harold Garner, who led the study.

Garner says this means aging is not just a process of our cells getting older. But that the fundamental instructions for how they replicate changes over time, in some people, faster than others.  It’s a combination of nature and nurture.  The findings may mean the effects of various chemicals can now be measured in the genes and it may even be possible to identify which chemicals a person has been exposed to.

The paper on the dynamics of the human genome was published in the journal Aging.