I recently got my genome analysis results back from 23andme. 23andme analyse your genome for single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), variations in single nucleotides, which can correlate with disease, drug response and other phenotypes.
Personal genome analysis (PGA) will revolutionize how we think about our own health. Currently, whenever a symptom or illness presents itself, we see doctors and those doctors provide medicines and treatments to remove or control the problem. With PGA we can discover what diseases we may be at risk of developing and in some cases adjust our lifestyles to reduce/prevent disease occurrence/progression.
For example, my PGA suggests (based on a number of studies) that I am at risk of developing a mild form of hemochromatosis, a disorder in which the body absorbs too much iron, causing damage to tissues, specifically the liver. A fact I find rather amusing considering I nearly started a research project focused on the role of iron in ageing.
Knowing I may be at risk of hemochromatosis, I can alter my diet to avoid foods such as red meats, which have a high percentage of iron. Thus, having this genetic knowledge could postpone/prevent the appearance of a disease by taking the appropriate steps. Prevention of disease, means healthier, longer lives.
There have also been a few studies looking at SNP’s associated with longevity. One study compared 213 Ashkenazi Jewish subjects ranging in age from 95 to 107 to a group of counterparts about 30 years their junior. Members of the longer-lived group were more likely to have a C in both copies of the SNP rs2542052. People with this genetic signature tended to be more sensitive to insulin and were less likely to have high blood pressure, which suggests it may promote longevity by protecting against cardiovascular disease. Luckily for me, my PGA is telling me I have two copies C.
Another study, which is more related to longevity in the Asian population, compared 213 Japanese men who lived 95 years or longer to 402 Japanese men who died before the age of 81. The researchers found that the longer-lived Japanese men were more likely to have a C at one or both copies of rs2764264, a SNP in the FOXO3A gene. Each C at rs2764264 was associated with about 1.6 greater odds of reaching age 95 or beyond compared to having a T at this position. The FOXO3A gene has been shown to modulate longevity in laboratory animals. Again, I have two copies of C (although in this instance, it may be ethnicity specific).
Readers must take into account that these studies were based on a limited number of participants and environmental factors such as diet are probably just as, if not more important than the underlying genetics. But that is a debate for another time.
Unfortunately it may not all be good news, I found out I have an increased chance of developing male pattern baldness…..thanks Dad :-)
If you are someone who have either bought a genetic test from a company like 23andme, or are thinking of doing so, please help out Corin Egglestone, a PhD student from Loughborough University in the UK, by spending 10 minutes of your time to answer questions for her survey: http://www-staff.lboro.ac.uk/~lsctre3/survey.html
Novelli V et al. (2008) . “Lack of replication of genetic associations with human longevity.” Biogerontology 9(2):85-92.
Atzmon G et al. (2006) . “Lipoprotein genotype and conserved pathway for exceptional longevity in humans.” PLoS Biol 4(4):e113.
Willcox BJ et al. (2008) . “FOXO3A genotype is strongly associated with human longevity.” Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 105(37):13987-92.