Can you guess how old this woman is? Scientists in California can now do better than guess; all they need is a sample of her saliva.
Sven Bockland,a molecular geneticist said, "The big shock to me was that we can predict someone's age based on just a saliva sample to an accuracy of 5 years." Geneticist Sven Bockland says his team discovered the age predicting method by accident. Originally the researchers where attempting to determine if a person's sexual orientation could be determined by changes in their DNA.
Dr. Eric Vilain, a professor of genetics and paediatrics at UCLA says the team didn't find a connection, but the research forced them to take a closer look at a chemical process called methylation. "Methylation is a chemical modification of the DNA that's heavily influenced by the environment. What we eat, if we smoke or not, things in the environment that we don't necessarily even understand, and time passing, are part of the environment."
The researchers collected saliva samples from several people aged 18-70 and that allowed them to build a predictive model for a person's age based on the degree of methylation in their DNA.
Sven said,"So the sample that we just looked at had a 65% of methylation, which would be about here. So you can tell based on this slope that the age of that sample is probably around 25 years old."
The Scientists say their findings offer many potential applications. A test based on the research could become a new forensic tool to help crime-scene investigators identify a suspect's age from a tiny sample of saliva.
Another outcome of the study showed that methylation sometimes shows a persons biological age as opposed to their chronological age. This means if a person lives an unhealthy lifestyle the degree of methylation will account for that. Vilain says accounting for biological age could help doctors better screen their patients for age related diseases such as colon cancer.
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