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Discovering Clues to Longevity in Our Genome

Researchers from Osaka University use genetic and clinical information of 700,000 individuals worldwide to show that high blood pressure and obesity are the strongest risk factors for reduced lifespan in our generation.

DNA has been known to be linked to development of diseases and other physiological functions. It contains all the vital information for cells to function. The protein-coding portion of DNA participate in processes within the cells and organs, other non-coding portions are also essential for the regulation of the DNA transcription and mRNA translation process.

Variations in the genetic code is evident through observable phenotypical traits, harnessing a huge amount of genetic and clinical data worldwide and a methodological breakthrough, it is now possible to identify individuals at several-fold increased risk of human diseases using genetic information.

In a new study, researchers from Osaka University discovered that individuals who have a genetic susceptibility to certain traits, such as high blood pressure or obesity, have a shorter lifespan. “The genetic code contains a lot of information, most of it of unknown significance to us,” says corresponding author of the study Yukinori Okada. “The goal of our study was to understand how we can utilize genetic information to discover risk factors for important health outcomes that we can directly influence as health care professionals.”

To achieve their goal, the researchers analysed genetic and clinical information of 700,000 individuals from biobanks in the UK, Finland and Japan. From these data, the researchers calculated polygenic risk scores, which are an estimate of genetic susceptibility to a biological trait, such as a risk for disease, to find out which risk factor causally influences lifespan.

“Biobanks are an incredible resource,” says lead author of the study Saori Sakaue. “By collaborating with large biobanks in the UK, Finland and Japan, we not only had access to large amounts of data, but also to genetically diverse populations, both of which are necessary to make clinically meaningful conclusions.”

The researchers found that high blood pressure and obesity were the two strongest risk factors that reduced lifespan of the current generation. Interestingly, while high blood pressure decreased lifespan across all populations the researchers investigated, obesity significantly reduced lifespan in individuals with European ancestry, suggesting that the Japanese population was somehow protected from the detrimental effect obesity has on lifespan.

“These are striking results that show how genetics can be used to predict health risks,” says Okada. “Our findings could offer an approach to utilize genetic information to seek out health risk factors with the goal of providing targeted lifestyle changes and medical treatment. Ultimately, these approaches would be expected to improve the health of the overall population.” [APBN]