In the latest episode of Genetics Unzipped, the podcast from the Genetics Society, presenter Kat Arney takes a look at the biological changes that underpin ageing, and how we can use this knowledge to live longer, healthier lives.
Kat speaks with Andrew Steele, author of the new book ‘Ageless: The New Science of Getting Older Without Getting Old’, to take a deep dive into the processes that underlie ageing and – excitingly – whether we might be able to slow them down to live longer, healthier lives.
As Andrew explains, “We’ve started to understand over the last 10 or 20 years, that ageing isn’t one thing – it’s a collection of things all happening together that, in this sort of slightly morbid synchronised way, orchestrate our demise when you get to a certain age. I break it down in the book into ten hallmarks of ageing… if you look at these ten different things, they’re all things that increase with age and if you increase the rate at which they happen they speed up your ageing, you die sooner or you get diseases more quickly. And if you slow them down – and this is the bit I’m really excited about – you can slow the ageing process and defer those diseases.”
Although Andrew is excited about the potential of anti-ageing therapies such as senolytics, which get rid of senescent ‘sleeping’ cells that accumulate in our tissues as we age, it turns out that one of the simplest anti-ageing approaches is right there on your bathroom shelf – and he doesn’t mean that fancy pot of expensive moisturiser.
“My favourite tip is to brush your teeth as it looks as though that could slow down the ageing process. When you’ve got gum disease or tooth decay, it’s something that your immune system can’t ever quite get rid of, this constant low-level skirmish going on in your mouth and over years, that’s chronic inflammation.
It can accelerate heart disease, it could accelerate cancer and there’s even been some sort of tentative evidence at the moment where they have found bacteria related to gum disease in the plaques of people who have dementia. Is it a causative factor? The fact is I’m happy to take the risk and brush my teeth because obviously there’s a load of other benefits at the same time.”
Kat also chats with Raheleh Rahbari, a research fellow at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, who is studying how patterns of DNA damage accumulate in our tissues throughout life. She discusses how our bodies are patchworks of mutation, right from the very start of life, and the impact this has on ageing and diseases like cancer and dementia.
“Our results show that there are variations in terms of how mutations and changes in DNA accumulate in different tissues. We can see that, for instance, colon from someone who is 30 accumulates less mutation compared to someone who is 80.
But recently, we noticed that actually this might be variable across different tissues. For instance, in testicular tissues from men, we realised that actually accumulation of mutations is a lot lower than colon, and this is very interesting because if there is any changes in DNA in the testicular tissues, specifically in germ cells, they have inheritance consequences.
This is really fascinating because it shows that there is evolutionary pressure to keep mutation in this tissue a lot lower and possibly protect the germ cells from acquiring mutation because of their evolutionary role.”
Listen to the whole episode and find show notes and a full transcript at GeneticsUnzipped.com.
Genetics Unzipped is the podcast from the UK Genetics Society, presented by award-winning science communicator Dr Kat Arney and produced by First Create the Media. Follow Genetics Unzipped on Twitter @geneticsunzip, and the Genetics Society at @GenSocUK