Longevity from mother to daughter: how to explain it?
In the royal family, this longevity appears to be passed down from mother to daughter. While her mother, affectionately known as “Queen Mum”, died on March 30, 2002 at the age of 101, Queen Elizabeth II of England finally left her people at the relatively advanced age of 96. She remains, for many of these subjects, the only sovereign they have known. This little piece of a woman with an extraordinary destiny was not destined to reign. Her father, King George VI, ascended the throne after the abdication of his brother Edward VIII following his marriage in 1936 to Wallis Simpson. However, the one who met 15 Prime Ministers profoundly changed the course of history with her role as an influence, albeit a pomp.
But what can explain such longevity? Let’s face it right away: there is no longevity gene. However, in a study published in Genome research, researchers have just highlighted a group of genes that could extend human life. Led by a team of scientists from University College London (UCL), this study suggests that a group of genes could extend lifespan: Pol I and Pol III.
The Pol I gene encodes the synthesis of a subunit involved in the production of the enzyme DNA polymerase. This enzyme is involved in DNA replication that occurs during cell division. Its role does not stop there as it also intervenes in DNA repair when it is damaged.
The Pol III gene codes for the synthesis of another enzyme called RNA polymerase III which is involved in the transcription of DNA into RNA within the cell nucleus. Pol III specifically encodes 5S ribosomal RNA and other small non-coding RNAs.
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Genes that prolong life when inhibited
In reality, these genes do not guarantee greater longevity when they are active, but when they are inhibited. A few years ago, scientists had already shown that this group of genes could increase the lifespan of some small organisms such as fruit flies by 10%.
Researchers at University College London found that these genes increase longevity in small organisms such as yeast and worms through an inhibitory effect. In humans, stopping the functioning of the Pol I and Pol III genes also prolongs life, but causes diseases related to developmental disorders known as ribosomopathies.
For this research, the scientists worked on a group of over 11,000 people whose lives were exceptionally long. They found that people whose activity of these Pol I and Pol III genes is reduced, but not completely turned off, tend to live longer.
The team of scientists found that the functioning of these genes is actually particularly useful early in life when the organism needs to grow and into early adulthood for reproduction. However, at the end of life, these genes are no longer useful.
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Can genetics alone determine longevity?
It would be too restrictive to think that the longevity of human life is exclusively linked to genetics. The life span of a person is influenced by genetics, but also by the environment in which that person lives and by their way of existing.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the living conditions in our countries significantly improved. Better food availability, access to clean water, healthier housing and less exposure to infectious diseases have significantly increased lifespan.
Advances in medicine have dramatically reduced infant mortality and prevented the transmission and spread of infectious diseases. Life expectancy in France is currently estimated at 85.6 years for women and 79.7 years for men. Life expectancy is steadily increasing and the number of centenarians will certainly increase in the years to come.
Numerous studies have also shown that these long-lived people have many points in common in terms of lifestyle: many of them have never smoked and consume very little or no alcohol. Very often they have no weight problems and are not subject to excessive stress. These good living habits allow these people to protect themselves from age-related health problems, chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
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Sara Javidnia, Stephen Cranwell, Stefanie H. Mueller, Colin Selman, Jennifer MA Tullet, Karoline Kuchenbaecker, Nazif Alic, “Mendelian randomization analyzes involve the biogenesis of the translation machinery in human aging”, Genome research2022, https://genome.cshp.org/content/32/2/258