LIFESTYLE

Scientists Discover DNA Changes That Can Shorten A Person's Lifespan By Three Years

'These discoveries are the tip of the iceberg.'

31/03/2016 15:12

Scientists have identified inherited gene changes that can cut a person's life short by up to three years. 

Researchers at University of Edinburgh analysed the genetic information of more than 150,000 people. 

They discovered two separate areas of the human genome where differences in the DNA code may affect how long a person lives.

Scientists said that while the findings are interesting, it's important to note that lifestyle still has the greatest impact on life expectancy. 

Sally Anscombe via Getty Images

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh analysed genetic information from more than 152,000 people who participated in the UK Biobank study - a long-term record of the health of thousands of volunteers.

They discovered two separate areas of the human genome where differences in the DNA code may affect life expectancy. 

The two changes - known as variants - are relatively common in the population and more than two thirds of us will inherit a single copy of one of them from either our mother or father.

Scientists believe that having a copy of one variant could reduce life expectancy by up to a year.

They predict that around three in 1,000 people will inherit two copies of both variants and can expect to die an average of three years earlier.

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According to researchers, one of the variants is a gene associated with increased risk of lung cancer and severe respiratory problems in people who smoke.

The other is in a gene associated with Alzheimer's disease and high cholesterol.

The research also found that the variants had different effects depending on gender.

The gene change linked to Alzheimer's disease had a greater effect on women, while the variation associated with lung disease had a greater effect on men.

Dr Peter Joshi, from the University of Edinburgh, said: "Although the effect of these genetic variants on lifespan is surprisingly large, it is important to remember that this is only part of the story.

"Lifestyle has the greatest impact on how long we live and that is under our control."

Dr Jim Wilson, from the University of Edinburgh, added: "These discoveries are the tip of the iceberg. As more data become available later this year, we expect to see many more discoveries.

"Excitingly, some of these might have a beneficial effect on health."

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, was funded by the Medical Research Council.

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