Researchers at EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), the Babraham Institute and collaborators have used the epigenetic clock to explore the molecular mechanisms that may drive ageing in humans. They found one gene, called NSD1, that seems to be closely linked to the process. This type of research could advance our understanding of ageing.
There are different ways of measuring an organism’s age. Chronological age is a measure of how long an organism has been alive, while biological age is a measure of how well the organism is functioning on a molecular level. One useful tool for measuring biological age is the epigenetic clock, proposed first by Trey Ideker, and independently by Steve Horvath in 2013.
The researchers examined different datasets – many of them publicly available – of people with developmental disorders, to see whether there were any associations between specific genes and an acceleration of biological age. They found that individuals with a mutation in gene NSD1 had an accelerated biological age according to the epigenetic clock, meaning they were ageing faster at a molecular level.
“The epigenetic clock is the most accurate tool available to measure the ageing process in humans,” explains Daniel Elías Martín-Herranz, who recently completed his PhD at EMBL-EBI. “We wanted to ‘peer inside’ and better understand how it works. Specifically, we wanted to see if we could identify specific genes or proteins from the epigenetic machinery that accelerate or slow down the ageing process. The fact that we found one gene that, when mutated, results in a significant acceleration of biological age is very encouraging. It shows that the epigenetic clock is a promising tool for understanding ageing and that we may unravel the molecular mechanisms that control its ticking rate.
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