Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How Long Will You Live?

In the past, guessing how long that you will live for has been a task left to mystics rather than scientists. New breakthroughs in genetics following the mapping of the human genome have made the development of a blood test that makes the prediction the life span of an individual possible. The test measures the length of a person’s telomeres, which are the vital pieces of DNA at the end of chromosomes. As cells continue to divide with age, telomeres become shorter and are believed to correspond with a kind of ‘biological age’ which is often different from chronological age. The recent breakthroughs have been in the accuracy of such tests, which can now detect very small differences in length in a fast, simple and affordable technique. It is more important to determine the length of the shortest telomere, which can be responsible for causing cells to stop growing, rather than the average telomere length. Scientists do not believe that the test can narrow a person’s life to a specific number of months and years but can provide an insight into the speed of their aging. Research has shown that people with shorter telomeres on average die younger than others with longer telomeres. The importance and revolutionary nature of new research into telomeres is evidenced by the recent awarding of a Nobel Prize in medicine to three American geneticists studying the DNA segments.

The test, which is said to be available later this year at a cost of around $700 Australian dollars, is not short of controversy. Such tests would be of great interest to insurance companies offering life insurance policies and the results could affect premiums. Some scientists also doubt the tests usefulness as it evaluates only part of the genetic basis of aging and neglects other genetic and environmental factors. Although the test could provide a very interesting snapshot into a person’s general health, it does nothing to change the need for people to live a healthy lifestyle by eating well and regularly exercising to extend their lifespan.
Connor, S. (2011) The 400 pound test that tells you how long you’ll live. The United Kingdom: The Independent, Available from: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/the-163400-test-that-tells-you-how-long-youll-live-2284639.html, Accessed 17 May 2011.
Carollo,K. (2011) Can a blood test determine how long people will live. Place Unknown: ABC News, Available from: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/blood-test-determine-quickly-body-aging/story?id=13613344 , Accessed 17 May 2011.

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