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Ageing Breakthrough: Scientists Discover 'Father Time' Gene

PA/The Huffington Post UK  |  Posted: 19/04/2012 22:01 Updated: 19/04/2012 22:01

Scientists has discovered four 'Father Time' genes that help determine how fast we age.

The ageing genes are switched on or off by environmental and lifestyle factors such as diet, and may be programmed from an early age.

Knowing how the genes are altered could pave the way to new generations of anti-ageing drugs, researchers believe.

Scientists already knew that "epigenetic" changes - chemical alterations to DNA made by external factors in the environment - are important to ageing.

The new research goes some way towards solving the riddle of how and when these effects occur.

Dr Jordana Bell, one of the study authors from King's College London, said: "We found that epigenetic changes associate with age-related traits that have previously been used to define biological age.

"We identified many age-related epigenetic changes, but four seemed to impact the rate of healthy ageing and potential longevity and we can use these findings as potential markers of ageing.

"These results can help understand the biological mechanisms underlying healthy ageing and age-related disease, and future work will explore how environmental effects can affect these epigenetic changes."

The scientists, whose work is reported in the online journal Public Library of Science Genetics, first looked for epigenetic changes in the DNA of 172 twins aged 32 to 80.

Twins are often used in such studies because identical pairs share exactly the same genes, making it possible to tease apart genetic and environmental effects. If one identical twin displays very different characteristics from the other it means the cause cannot be genetic.

Analysing the changes in relation to chronological age, the researchers identified 490 age-related epigenetic changes.

Matching these to specific age-related traits highlighted four genes displaying changes linked to cholesterol levels, lung function and maternal lifespan.

Further research showed that many of the epigenetic DNA alterations were also present in a group of 44 younger twins aged 22 to 61.

This suggests that while many age-related genetic changes caused by environmental factors occur throughout a person's life, some might be triggered early on.

Professor Tim Spector, director of the Department of Twin Research at King's College, said: "This study is the first glimpse of the potential that large twin studies have to find the key genes involved in ageing, how they can be modified by lifestyle and start to develop anti-ageing therapies.

"The future will be very exciting for age research."

Gene experts at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, Cambridgeshire, played a key role in the study.

Sanger scientist Dr Panos Deloukas pointed out that the research was still at an early stage. "Our study interrogated only a fraction of sites in the genome (genetic code) that carry such epigenetic changes; these initial findings support the need for a more comprehensive scan of epigenetic variation," he said.

  • Anti-Ageing Herbs That Protect Against Premature Ageing

  • Milk Thistle

    Milk thistle encourages the liver to make a powerful antioxidant, which aids the regeneration of new skin cells and helps to create a glowing, youthful complexion.

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    The Rhodiola Rosea is an 'adaptogen' herb which has long been used to enhance the body's ability to cope with mental stress. It is also believed that the herb could help protect the brain from age-related mental disorders such as Alzheimer's and enhance body stamina and strength.

  • Rosemary

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    Known as the 'mushroom of immortality' this colourful fungi has been a folk medicine in China for thousands of years. It is traditionally used to treat age-related conditions like hypertension, arthritis, insomnia and lung disorders. It is also a great anti-inflammatory agent and can be taken in the form of tea or tablets.

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  • Snail Slime Cream

    Carefully collected snail's slime is a potent anti-ageing ingredient that helps reduce scars, stretch marks and acne, as well as smoothing out wrinkles. The rich snail secretion is packed with regenerative compounds. Now this anti-ageing treatment isn't as unusual as it sounds, as it's already a staple beauty product in Britain's <a href="http://www.hollandandbarrett.com/pages/product_detail.asp?pid=869&searchterm=snail&rdcnt=1" target="_hplink">Holland and Barrett</a>.

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    Rendered from from the fat of an emu bird, emu oil is a lesser known anti-ageing oil that has been used for centuries in the Aboriginal communities for its healing powers. Mixed with eucalyptus oil, it containing bundles of vitamin E and A, the oil's antioxidants help repair wounds and thickens skin against ageing. The cream also soaks moisture into the skin, which avoids dehydrated, saggy looking skin.

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    Definitely not one for vegetarian beauty fans, but pigs trotters are a popular anti-ageing solution in Japan, as the trotters are a great source of collagen - the vital ingredient for boosting elasticity in the skin.

  • Bee Sting Venom

    The bee sting venom facial doesn't involve a her of bees pricking your face, but instead, the venom from the sting is transferred into a gel and then rubbed on the face as part of an intensive facial. According to researchers in South Korea, the venom helps prevent the skin from sun damage and restores collagen production.

  • Sperm Facial

    Spermine is a powerful antioxidant in human sperm and some beauty goers swear by its anti-ageing super powers. This treatment first surfaced in New York where the 'cream' is applied over the skin and then ultrasound and infrared light is used to penetrate through the skins lipid barrier. It's believed this 'sperm facial' leaves the skin looking blemish and wrinkle-free. And you don't have to have the treatment done in a salon, as a Norwegian company, Bioforskning, sell sperm-based products.

  • Breast Milk Soap

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    Possibly the wackiest of them all - the 'Face Slimmer', originates from Japan but is (unsurprisingly) yet to take off in the UK. This rubbery-looking mouthpiece, created by cosmetic company Glim, is designed to keep the facial muscles pert by keeping the cheeks and mouth stretched in a permanent 'trout pout' position. The mouth guard comes with various face exercise ideas to keep the dreaded sagging jowls away. Image: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/cool3c" target="_hplink">Flickr/ cool3c</a>

  • Baby's Foreskin

    A treatment developed by British biomedical company <a href="http://www.intercytex.com/" target="_hplink">Intercytex</a>, created an anti-ageing treatment using microscopic skin cells from babies' foreskins. This unusual treatment is believed to rejuvenate and restructure ageing and damaged skin, by repopulating the lower layers of skin with millions of healthy skin cells from the foreskin that are packed of collagen and human dermal fibroblasts.

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    This alternative and somewhat painful-looking anti-ageing massage is designed to stimulate the blood flow, creating a youthful glow. The 'platza' treatment involves the bare back being thwarted with a 'broom' made of oak-leaf branches. The harsh brushing technique is also said to help tone up muscles and invigorate sluggish energy levels.

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