Year of selection 2017
Institution The University of Edinburgh
Country United Kingdom
Is the length of our lives written in our DNA? Research shows that longevity depends on a combination of both lifestyle and genes. « About a quarter of the variability in lifespan is estimated to be due to genetics », confirms Dr. Peter Joshi. « Yet, so far only three specific genes have been identified as playing a part in longevity, and they explain very little of the variation ». Aiming to shed light on the underlying mechanisms of healthy ageing, Dr. Joshi is leading an ambitious, large-scale study to investigate the still largely mysterious genomic and biological basis of human lifespan. His objective is to contribute to a better understanding of how longevity is genetically determined, providing invaluable knowledge for medicine and healthcare systems.
The investigation of ageing genes is a very active topic of research, but a very challenging one. « This kind of study is problematic for two reasons », Dr. Peter Joshi explains. « First, the effects of each ageing gene is small. Identifying them requires very large samples of data. Second, to make a connection between genetics and longevity, you have to wait, potentially for decades, before the subjects have died. Therefore, short-term results are tricky.
Paving the way for fundamental knowledge in biology
To overcome the former problem, Dr. Peter Joshi is using data from UK Biobank, which freshly released the full genetic profiles of more than 500,000 people, aged 40 to 69 years old, at recruitment. As for the latter, the researcher will look at how long subjects’ parents lived – and the 50% of DNA they share with their children. The first step of his project will consist of reading the enormous amount of lifespan and genomic data available to him through the UK Biobank and then perform a series of statistical tests to highlight which genes are of special interest. Then, once the validity of the findings is tested and proven using independent datasets, the study will move on to investigating the mechanisms by which these genes affect lifespan pathways.
While fundamental genetic questions are beginning to be answered for common diseases such as Cadriovascular disease, the genomic basis of human lifespan remains largely unknown. In this sense, Dr. Peter Joshi’s project offers encouraging prospects in the field, promising to shed light on fundamental biological functions, with impacts on long-term care, chronic disease, as well as healthcare systems management.