A new study shows that different populations may have different gene variants, determining their telomere length. Something that is crucial to health and longevity.
Telomeres are the ends of our chromosomes, and while they don’t have any particular function, they protect the genome in every cell division. When a cell divides, it always happens in an imperfect way. Some part of each chromosome gets cut at the ends. Of course our bodies have a way to fix this issue, Telomeres. In every cell division, the ends of our chromosomes get cut, but since those ends are telomeres, it means that they contain no critical genes or information. They act like a shield.
Unfortunately, they are far from perfect. While telomerase and other proteins may be able to extend telomeres, this can happen only in a few specific cases. So, as we age telomeres get shorter. Eventually they get so short, that in each cell division we lose essential parts of our genome. And this is one of the reasons that as we age, we tend to get sick and unable to do things we used to do.
Scientists, especially lately have been focusing a lot on those telomeres, and we have seen some great studies on them. One of them, took 492 healthy African American people and looked at their DNA. They were looking for polymorphisms in the areas that affect telomere length and maintenance. The population was also young, aged 8 – 20 years old. I don’t think this would matter that much, as we have seen in other studies that telomere factors are not related to age.
It was found that such populations have different genes. Polymorphisms like the rs1483898, tend to be present in this population while not in others. This means that from now on studies on telomeres may have to control diversity in their data analysis. It also means that more research needs to be done on those polymorphisms and how they affect health.
How telomeres work is still being studied and it seems like it is not directly related to life span. Mostly because studies tend to disagree. But that may be due to different populations. On the other hand almost all studies agree that the longer the telomeres, the healthier the person is. Telomere length affects health in such a generic way that it is still hard to find exact mechanisms that affect exact pathways, genes and proteins.