Two new genetic changes, known as variants, were found in two separate areas of the genome. Having a single copy reduces lifespan by up to one year, while individuals having both copies stand at risk of living three years less than they’d normally would. Around 66 percent of all people have one of these variants, inherited from either mother or father, but only 0.3 percent carry both copies.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh found the two variants after analyzing the genetic information from 152,000 people enrolled in the UK Biobank study. One of the variants is linked to a gene associated with an increased risk of lung cancer and severe respiratory problems in people who smoke. The other is in a gene associated with Alzheimer’s disease and high cholesterol. The Alzheimer’s gene change was seen more in women, while the one linked to lung disease had the greatest effect on men.
Dr Peter Joshi, of the University of Edinburgh’s Usher Institute of Population Health Sciences and Informatics, said: “Although the effect of these genetic variants on lifespan is surprisingly large, it is important to remember that this is only part of the story. Lifestyle has the greatest impact on how long we live and that is under our control.”
Dr Jim Wilson, also of the University of Edinburgh’s Usher Institute of Population Health Sciences and Informatics, said: “These discoveries are the tip of the iceberg. As more data become available later this year, we expect to see many more discoveries. Excitingly, some of these might have a beneficial effect on health.”