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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

Harvard: Uncovering a “Smoking Gun” of Biological Aging

A newly discovered ribosomal DNA (rDNA) clock can be used to accurately determine an individual’s chronological and biological age, according to research led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The ribosomal clock is a novel biomarker of aging based on the rDNA, a segment of the genome that has previously been mechanistically linked to aging. The ribosomal clock has potentially wide applications, including measuring how exposures to certain pollutants or dietary interventions accelerate or slow aging in a diversity of species, including mice and humans.

“We have hopes that the ribosomal clock will provide new insights into the impact of the environment and personal choices on long-term health,” said senior author Dr. Bernardo Lemos, associate professor of environmental epigenetics. “Determining biological age is a central step to understanding fundamental aspects of aging as well as developing tools to inform personal and public health choices.”

The study was published online in Genome Research on February 14.

For this new study, the researchers looked at the rDNA, the most active segment of the genome and one which has also been mechanistically linked to aging in a number of previous studies. Dr. Lemos and lead author Dr. Meng Wang, a research fellow in the Department of Environmental Health, hypothesized that the rDNA is a “smoking gun” in the genomic control of aging and might harbor a previously unrecognized clock.

Analysis of genome-wide data sets from mice, dogs, and humans indicated that the researchers’ hypothesis had merit: numerous CpGs in the rDNA exhibited signs of increased methylation—a result of aging. Read more.

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