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As we get older, we lose some of our DNA. Like a pair of shoelaces, our chromosomes have protective caps on the ends, what are called telomeres.
At birth, telomeres have about 8,000 pairs of DNA. As we get older, that drops to around 3,000. Now a new study from the University of Utah suggests that telomere length is more than just a sign of aging, but could be linked to survival.
Doctor Richard Cawthon and colleagues studied 143 adults aged 60 to 97 who donated blood in the early 80s. By the end of the study, 42 people were still alive.
"And this difference in survival, is at least in part attributable to people with shorter telomeres having a higher chance of dying from heart disease, as well aas a higher chance of dying from infectious disease," Dr. Cawthon says.
As reported in the journal Lancet, they found that compared to those with longer telomers, people with shorter telomeres were three times more likely to die from heart disease, eight times more likely to die from an infectious disease, and overall, twice as likely to die from any cause.
The study results are intriguing, but there's still much we don't know, like whether telomere length is simply a sign of disease, a marker of an underlying problem that's the real culprit, or if shorter telomeres truly increases the risk of death.
Even so, it's exciting to consider the possibilities. What if we could introduce a gene to lengthen a person's telomeres so they could live longer, healthier lives, in a sense, turning back the biological clock.