Death of Queen Elizabeth II: Can genetics explain her longevity?

A longevity from mother to daughter: how can we explain it?

In the royal family, this longevity seems to be transmitted from mother to daughter. While her mother, affectionately known as “Queen Mum”, died on March 30, 2002 at the age of 101, Queen Elizabeth II of England left her people for good at the relatively advanced age of 96. She remains, for many of these subjects, the only sovereign they have known. This little bit of woman with an extraordinary destiny was not destined to reign. Her father, King George VI, ascended the throne after the abdication of his brother Edward VIII following his 1936 marriage to Wallis Simpson. However, the one who knew 15 Prime Ministers profoundly changed the course of history by her role of influence although of pageantry.

But what can explain such longevity? Let’s say it straight away: there is no such thing as a longevity gene. However, in a study published in Genome Research, researchers have just highlighted a group of genes likely to lengthen human life. Led by a team of scientists from University College London (UCL), this study suggests that a group of genes could prolong lifespan: Pol I and Pol III.

The Pol I gene codes for the synthesis of a subunit involved in the manufacture of the DNA polymerase enzyme. This enzyme is involved in DNA replication which occurs during cell division. Its role does not stop there since it also intervenes in the repair of DNA when it is subjected to damage.

The Pol III gene codes for the synthesis of another enzyme called RNA polymerase III which is involved in the transcription of DNA into RNA inside the cell nucleus. Pol III specifically encodes 5S ribosomal RNA and other small non-coding RNAs.

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Genes that prolong life if inhibited

Caption: DNA polymerase is an enzyme that replicates DNA and repairs it. Source: picmedical/Shutterstock

In reality, these genes do not ensure greater longevity when they are active, but when they are inhibited. A few years ago, scientists had already demonstrated that this group of genes could increase the lifespan by 10% of certain small organisms such as fruit flies.

Researchers at University College London have found that these genes increase longevity in small organisms like yeast and worms through an inhibition effect. In humans, stopping the functioning of the Pol I and Pol III genes also prolongs life, but causes diseases linked to developmental disorders known as ribosomopathies.

For this research, the scientists worked on a panel of more than 11,000 people whose lifespans were exceptionally long. They found that people whose activity of these Pol I and Pol III genes is reduced, but not completely shut down, tend to live longer.

The team of scientists discovered that in reality the functioning of these genes is especially useful in the beginning of life when the organism needs to grow and until the beginning of adulthood for reproduction. However, at the end of life, these genes are no longer useful.

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Can genetics alone determine longevity?

It would be too restrictive to think that the longevity of human life is linked solely to genetics. The length of someone’s life is influenced by genetics, but also by the environment in which that person lives and their mode of existence.

At the beginning of the 20th century, living conditions in our countries improved greatly. Improved food availability, access to clean water, healthier housing, and less exposure to infectious diseases have increased lifespans dramatically.

Medical advances have drastically reduced infant mortality and prevented the transmission and spread of infectious diseases. Currently in France, life expectancy is estimated at 85.6 years for women and 79.7 years for men. Life expectancy is constantly increasing and the number of centenarians will certainly increase in the years to come.

Numerous studies have also shown that these long-lived people have many points in common in terms of lifestyle: many of them have never smoked and consume very little or no alcohol. Very often, they do not experience weight problems and are not prone to excessive stress. These good lifestyle habits allow these people to protect themselves against age-related health problems, chronic diseases such as hypertension, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

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Source :

Sara Javidnia, Stephen Cranwell, Stefanie H. Mueller, Colin Selman, Jennifer MA Tullet, Karoline Kuchenbaecker, Nazif Alic, “Mendelian randomization analyzes implicate biogenesis of translation machinery in human aging”, Genome Research2022, https://genome.cshlp.org/content/32/2/258

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