DNA Day experts answer your questions about genetics and aging

18 April 2013

Above: Image © KatarzynaBialasiewicz, iStockphoto.com

Can your DNA change over time? Just as you change through puberty.

The simple answer is yes, but not much. Rare mutations happen in your DNA due to exposure to "mutagens" - stuff in the environment that causes changes to your DNA.

- Answer provided by Dr. Sean Myles

Do telomeres affect our age?

Telomeres shorten with time and they seem to be a pretty accurate marker of the aging body as well. How about legnthening them to prevent aging? Some experiments suggest that in mice anyway, that works. No human data yet!

- Answer provided by Jay Ingram

Can we change our DNA during our lives?

Aside from the potential for a mutation (e.g., cancer), no, we can't change our DNA. We can however, change the expression of different genes in our DNA that regulate things such as metabolism.... For example, it is like if you have a light on a dimmer switch in your house. The light is always there and always has the function of making something brighter, but you can use the dimmer switch to decide HOW bright it will be.

- Answer provided by Dr. Monique Haakensen

How do certain traits you are born with such as eye colour, change as you get older? How do those genes change?

I'm glad you asked this question, because the answer may surprise you. It's infrequent that there is a clear-cut 1-to-1 direct relationship between a gene variant and a physical phenomena (what we scientists call "genotypes" and "phenotypes") For example, in the case of iris, there are at least 5 genes that contribute to the color you see. As you go through life, the DNA of those same five genes doesn't change (constant genotype). The nature of the five proteins those genes encode may not change either... BUT, by a complex set of processes called "gene regulation", the relative amounts of the proteins can change over time. Different protein concentrations can lead to changes in phenotype (e.g. eyes get more brown with time) a single cell embryo has the same genes as the adult it becomes but genes are "turned up or down" many times to create the protein levels necessary to transition through the various stages of life! Gene regulation is a process fundamental to all life

- Answer provided by Dr. Paul Gordon


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