Telomere Length

Telomere Length has long been a popular biomarker for biological aging.

Now, we are excited to offer Telomere Length detected by methylation as a new Report Expansion. 

What Are Telomeres?

Telomeres are repeating sequences of nucleotide base-pairs at the very end of all your chromosomes.

They don’t carry your essential genetic data, but they do protect it. 

Telomere Length Diagram - showing a cell nucleus, chromosome and telomere end-caps

In actively dividing cells (like embryo stem cells, bone marrow, and germ cells that later become sperm or ovary cells), telomere length is kept constant by the enzyme telomerase

If we didn’t have telomeres, genetic information from the DNA on the ends of the chromosomes would be lost every time a cell divided.

Over time and as the organism grows into an adult, the telomerase enzyme becomes less active. When the telomerase enzyme is no longer repairing them, your telomeres begin to steadily shorten during cell division. 

Of course, your body generally doesn’t want to harm your genetic code. When the telomeres reach their shortest length, your cells take that as a sign to stop replicating.  When a cell stops replicating, but sticks around to use up nutrients instead of being broken down by the body, that’s called cellular senescence

Cell replication is necessary for healing and growing, so this process of telomere shortening and eventually stopping replication is widely accepted to be one of several factors that causes tissues to age. (T.Lu et al., 2019)

Why is Telomere Length important?

Telomeres are an essential part of human cells, and affect how our cells age. Telomere Length has emerged as an important determinant of cell fate.

What happens to your cells at the end of their lifespan – and how quickly they arrive at that end – is an important indicator of the aging process and a wide variety of diseases.

People with significantly shorter telomeres are 3x more likely to die from heart disease, and 8x more likely to die from infectious diseases. (M. Shammas, 2011

Shorter telomere length and low telomerase activity are associated with several chronic preventable diseases.

These include hypertension, cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, depression, osteoporosis, and obesity. It’s also implicated in genomic instability and oncogenesis (the formation of cancer, where normal cells are transformed into cancer cells)

Therefore, tracking the rate of telomere shortening is critical to tracking the overall progression of health and aging. 

What's Included in this Report Expansion

Your Average Telomere Length

Your telomere length is measured in Kb, or ‘kilobases.’ 

Remember how Telomeres are made of up of protective base-pairs at the end of your chromosome? A kilobase is 1,000 base-pairs. 

Humans can have between 2 and 50 kilobases, but adults average between 5-15.
(Butler et al., 1998

Each time a cell replicates, 20-200 base-pairs are lost from the end of its telomeres.

So if you have more base-pairs remaining and you lose a smaller amount each replication, then your cells will be able to replicate more times before reaching senescence.  

your average telomere length

Your Telomere Age

Due to the strong link between DNA Methylation (a type of epigenetic marker, and our lab’s specialty) we can now offer an accurate Telomere Length estimation using your Methylation data, to show what ‘Telomere Age’ your telomere length indicates you are. 

Telomere Age offers another metric to reveal your body’s aging process, focused on cellular replication and cellular fate. 

Compare yours against the average

Based on your Telomere Length and birth year, you can compare your telomere length against people who share your birthday. 

For example, if a man is 68 chronological years old and has a Telomere Length of 7.1Kb, he is in the 90th percentile – his telomeres are longer than 90% of men his age. 

There is no single, perfect way to measure your entire process of aging. That’s why your TruAge is a collection of reports

Epigenetic Biological Aging is the baseline summary of your entire body’s aging. 

DunedinPACE shows your current Pace of Aging – a speedometer snapshot of how accelerated your aging currently is. This test is the most predictive of age-related health outcomes, and the most sensitive to short-term changes. 

Extrinsic Age uses immune cell deconvolution – a way of analyzing ratios of cell types in the blood – to make the Biological Age measurement even more accurate, by accounting for your immune system’s influence on aging. 

Intrinsic Age shows the baseline age of your body if your immune system’s impact was removed entirely. 

We’re excited to be able to add Telomere Age – an aging metric created with Telomere Length to focus on cellular replication and cellular fate. 

These, along with our trait reports and advanced metrics, work together to form a larger picture of your ever-changing health and lifespan. 

Together, they create your ‘TruAge’ 

More Fun Facts About Telomeres

Almost-Immortal Seafood

Fun Fact: Lobsters never stop producing the telomere-repairing enzyme telomerase, even as adults! This is technically called 'Indeterminate Growth' and not real immortality, but it's still really cool.

Molecular processes that are considered characteristics of aged organisms include loss of telomere function, epigenetic changes, declining protein homeostasis, increased cellular senescence, depletion of the stem cell pool, and altered intercellular communication.

Lobsters... don't have most of those.

Lobsters still die from being eaten, getting a bad infection, and getting too big to find enough food. However, they don't die from the same aging markers that humans do. Their DNA remains youthful and untouched by cellular division. They just keep growing and growing.

Problems with molting is often what takes out old lobsters.

Since their shells don't grow with their inner soft body, they need to molt off their shells and grow a new one. Getting out of the shell can be a problem as they get huge.

Wiggling out requires more and more energy with each new molt, so giant lobsters can find themselves in a too-small shell as their soft body continues to grow. Without the energy for that ever-intensifying new molt, they get stuck. It's not a nice way to die. The oldest lobster found so far is believed to be 140 years old.

There's plenty of research examining amazing animals like Lobsters, Hydra, and Axolotl to see if there's an opportunity to translate their lifespan-lengthening and self-repairing abilities into humans.