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Ageing gene found by scientists could be key to longer lifespans

A longevity gene has been identified for the first time in a breakthrough that could eventually help people live longer, a new study suggests.

The researchers have located a gene which determines whether or not a person will biologically age quickly or slowly.

They think that by testing for the gene when some one is young could identify whether they have to alter their lifestyle accordingly.

In the longer term it may be possible to manipulate the gene so that life spans can be extended.

"This gives us for the first time a better understanding of biological ageing, " said Professor Nilesh Samani at the University of Leicester.

"It is the first step to understanding why people age. Once we have a full understanding we should be able to manipulate it in a manner to influence how someone ages."

Cells in the body are constantly replacing themselves before they die. But each replication is not perfect and the faults that are passed down cause the body to age.

One form of damage is caused to the telomeres – the end parts of chromosomes which act like the plastic tips of shoelaces and stop them from fraying.

The problem is that they shorten each time they replicate and eventually are so short that replication becomes impossible and the cell dies forever.

The scientists have discovered that a variant of the TERC gene determines not only how long the telomeres are when someone is born but also how quickly they shorten.

Prof Samani, who reported his findings in the Journal Nature Genetics, discovered the variant by comparing the genetic make-up and biological age of more than 10,000 people.

He said: "In this study what we found was that those individuals carrying a particular genetic variant had shorter telomeres i.e. looked biologically older.

"Given the association of shorter telomeres with age-associated diseases, the finding raises the question whether individuals carrying the variant are at greater risk of developing such diseases."

Professor Tim Spector from King's College London, who co-led this project, said: "What our study suggests is that some people are genetically programmed to age at a faster rate.

"The effect was quite considerable in those with the variant, equivalent to between 3-4 years of 'biological ageing" as measured by telomere length loss.

"Alternatively genetically susceptible people may age even faster when exposed to proven 'bad' environments for telomeres like smoking, obesity or lack of exercise – and end up several years biologically older or succumbing to more age-related diseases."

© Telegraph.co.uk