Int'l Cooperation
Anti-ageing breakthrough as scientists discover a gene of youthful looks
Print | Close | Text Size:A A A


Why some people look older while others look younger than they are? A new study, released today on Current Biology, has uncovered the first genetic evidence explaining the discrepancy between how old we look and how old we are.


Scientists from Beijing Institute of Genomics, Erasmus University Medical Center Rotterdam, Unilever and other research centers, conducted a large collaborative study on genetics of perceived age. In this study, researchers used nearly a hundred thousand of person times to observe more than four thousands of high resolution facial images, precisely quantified everybody’s perceived age (how old one looks), and analyzed nearly 8 million DNA variants for their relationship with perceived age.


This first-of-its-kind research has found a link between a gene and perceived age. Individuals with one form of the MC1R gene looked two years older than those with a different form. The findings could radically alter our understanding of why some people, of the same age, look older and others look younger.


MC1R is the key gene for human skin to synthesize melanin, deficient of which may result in a lower defensive capacity of skin, and in a longer term lead to more cumulative UV damage, even the development of skin cancer.


“The melanogeneis of MC1R may explain only a small part of its effect on perceived age”, said Professor Fan Liu from Beijing Institute of Genomics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, “our data show that the genetic effect was not so much influenced by skin color, sun damage and UV exposure, suggesting other functions play an important role. As MC1R is also involved in oxidative damage, DNA repair and immunosuppression, all potentially influence how old we look.”


Fan also pointed out “We found multiple functional alleles in the MC1R gene which interact with each other in a compound heterozygote manner. We plan to use our newly developed method to specifically screen for such alleles at the genome-wide scale, hoping to find more genes explaining our perceived age.”


Professor Manfred Kayser from Erasmus MC University Medical Center Rotterdam: “Having found this first gene for perceived age is important because it opens the door for finding more, which we know exist and we now know are possible to find. Once we identify more genetic markers of perceived age we will use them together with already known epigenetic age markers to determine from DNA how old someone looks, which is relevant in forensic investigations.”


Unilever senior scientist Dr. David Gunn: “This research is tremendously exciting and opens up brand new understanding of why some people maintain a more youthful appearance as they age. By continues research on the ‘secrets’ of those who look young for their age, we hope to help everybody keep younger looking for longer in the future.”


Paper link:

Contact: Prof. LIU Fan