On BioScience and Life and Such

The Age of Age

In Uncategorized on November 12, 2019 at 3:17 pm

In the series “Books I want to write, but can’t because I lack the skills” comes the science fiction novel “The age of Age”. A book about how life changes when biological age substitutes for chronological age.

What happens when you are 18 years old, but your biological age is 15 and you have to wait three years to receive the adult benefits that people around you are receiving, – including the 15 year old brother of a friend whose biological age is 18 ? What happens when a 22-year old male gets juvenile sentencing for his violent crime because his biological mental age is only 15 ? Is it fair that the 65 year old man is denied a surgical procedure because his biological age of 80 makes him too old to medically qualify ?

Bilderesultat for ageing

It is a Science fiction-ish plot, but the technology is near future. I know because one of the projects our lab is involved in is the making of a biological-clock assay based on DNA-methylation patterns. There currently are a lot of these projects…. And consequently calculators for both healthy-life and death …..

All kinds of good things can come out of this of course. My own testimony is a happy one:

I tested my DNA and compared it with some of my frozen 10-year old DNA (yes, as a lab-nerd I have lots and lots of my old DNA hanging around  in freezers).

The old sample was taken just after I had quit smoking. I had been a heavy smoker for many years. So comparing my 10 year-old heavy-smoker DNA and my current DNA, I had only aged 6 biological years in the last chronological 10-year period. It is not unreasonable to conclude that this particular methylation pattern seems like a strikingly good marker for the positive effects from quitting the cigarettes.

With a lab-test that gives you such compelling results, the potential impact on unhealthy behavior is obvious. Also, since you can continuously monitor your progress, you now have a much better tool to measure actual effects on the diet- and lifestyle-changes you choose. That would hopefully put a lot of snake-oil vendors out of business.

But, biological clocks may not be all good. Like any other DNA-test it comes down to how you use the result, … who gets access, and …how they use it. It seems to me that this test is more prone to abuse by authorities or commercial interests, than almost any other genetic test out there.

Not sure of the awareness around this though. I happily share my 23andMe-results or exome-sequencing to almost anyone because I have always struggled to see the damage that can be done to me by misusing that particular data.

I would however be much less willing to share my biological age. I would argue that most science fiction stories depend on some kind of misuse of power, usually within some form of autocratic social structure. The book-idea above however does not require an apocalyptic or tyrannic future. The only requirement for the age of age scenario is to keep the focus we currently have on cost-saving and efficiency in our justice and health systems.

Epigenetic measures of biological age will soon become the best tool to reliably monitor changes you do to your life. Since this is something most of us will probably want to do, there is potential for its widespread use. Keeping your biological age a secret will then become more than vanity,  – it may be the only way to avoid age-discrimination.

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