“With just a saliva sample, we can accurately predict a person’s age without knowing anything else about them.” This was the statement made by Dr. Eric Vilain, professor of human genetics, urology, and pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, with regards to the groundbreaking research, of which he was the principal investigator, and resulting development of a test that can accurately predict a person’s age, within a five-year range, only by using a saliva sample.
The research involved searching through the genomes of study participants by using collected saliva samples and identifying sites on the DNA that showed the strongest correlation between DNA methylation and aging. Methylation, a process by which one of the DNA’s four building blocks undergoes a chemical change, is linked to the aging process. The researchers narrowed down the genes, with the strongest age-related correlation to methylation, to two and, using these, they were able to predict, within five years, the ages of the study participants.
Sven Bocklandt, they study’s first author and a geneticist at Bioline, adds, “Methylation’s relationship with age is so strong that we can identify how old someone is by examining just two of the 3 billion building blocks that make up our genome.”
According to Vilain and his team, the cutting-edge test can be a forensic tool that crime-scene investigators can find very useful. Methylation is not only strongly related to chronological age; scientists can also use methylation to determine biological age. This could prove very beneficial to physicians when evaluating a person’s risk for age-related diseases, recommending necessary screenings, and developing appropriate interventions.
The next phase of the study involves looking at the relationship between lower biological age and longevity and reduced risk for diseases. The research team will also be trying to determine if higher biological age is related to early death and increased risk for diseases.