Tuesday, 10 January 2012

How long will you live for?

According to the Scots at Glasgow university, telomeres are the key to longevity, the length of these tiny pieces of DNA may determine how long you live for.

What are telomeres?

Telomeres are the cap at the end of chromosomes to keep it's structure. As you might know, chromosomes are composed of DNA, and DNA is basically a lot of strands bunched together, so without the caps, the structure would just fall apart.

Have a look at the the chromosomes below, the telomeres are the white dots 

Over time, because of mitosis (cell division), the telomere gets shorter and shorter from degradation. Imagine you're eating a lolly, every lick you take is a division, eventually you'll wear it down and the stick is exposed. The telomere situation is exactly this (minus the stick and tastiness), after a lot of division through your lifetime, the DNA, previously held together by your telomeres is exposed and falls apart. This causes the cells to die or malfunction.

yeah, so what?

Some clever scientists lengthened the telomeres of mice, and it reversed the signs of ageing in them. It could show potential for extending life!

Now it hasn't been done in humans yet (probably because no one has been brave enough to be the test subject, and also because its illegal) but as laws change a lot, maybe you can try your luck in the future! (I would wait until someone else has tried it first so you know whether or not you'll mutate into some monster).

So if your telomeres are long, then great- you'll live longer than your friends!

If your telomeres are short, well.. you're just unlucky.

Telomeres can be renewed by enzymes called telomerase, these can temporarily keep your chromosomes going but not really by much, what you really want is gene therapy. This will permanently lengthen them and can possibly allow you to live longer when the technology comes out.

If you want to read more on it, including the effect on finches, take a look at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-16479649

..and while you're at it, have a chilled listen to Bon Iver- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TWcyIpul8OE

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