“What a drag it is getting old…” We’ve always wondered how the Rolling Stones are still rockin. A little luck? Alien intervention? Genetics maybe, or is it something else? While most aging partiers are busy worrying about looking cool and fitting in with the Lindsey Lohans of the club scene, it turns out they should be a little more concerned with their DNA methylation patterns.
A mega-collaboration of researchers at several big-name institutions including Brown, Harvard, and UCSF, have found that drinking, smoking, and just plain getting older alters your DNA methylation which could increase your risk of developing diseases. But hey, we didn’t need methylation data to tell us that we’re more likely to fall apart as we get older. After all, we have our Editor for that. The major takeaway from this study was that the definition of “normal” when it comes to epigenetics is kind of a moving target, an idea that the NIH Roadmap Epigenomics grant awardees are cracking at as we speak.
Using Illumina’s GoldenGate methylation platform, the scientists analyzed blood, as well as 217 normal human tissue samples from various locations in the body. In solid tissues, loci within CpG islands became more methylated with age, but those outside of islands lost methylation with age. The researchers could also tell which of their subjects were exposed to asbestos, smoked a lot, or whether they drank alcohol by comparing methylation patterns at specific loci. Interestingly enough, it didn’t take profiling genome-wide methylation patterns to do it either; the team was able to define tissue-specific methylation profiles while profiling about 1,400 CpG sites. Take that, sequencing!
Check out all the details at PLoS Genetics, August 2009.