Telomere length and risk of dying


Telomeres – protective regions on the ends of chromosomes preventing the DNA from being eaten away– may be linked to risk of dying, according to a new study.

Telomeres are regions of nucleotide sequences that repeat at each end of chromosomes. They prevent the chromosomes from deteriorating or fusing with another chromosome. They shorten over time as DNA replicates, and protect the chromosome itself from shortening during each cell division.

Shorter telomeres appear to coincide with a higher risk of death. Telomeres shorten with age, and shorter telomeres are already associated with some diseases. Researchers at the Kaiser Permanente and the University of California, San Francisco have measured telomere length in a cohort of over 110, 000 people in an on-going project that aims to uncover the link between genetics and health. This is the largest study to investigate the role of the telomeres in health. The 10% of people with the shortest telomere lengths had a more than 20% greater risk of dying than those with longer telomeres. The health status and ages of those who died is still unknown. This means that how much of an effect the telomere length has on people is unclear.

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