We have all heard it before: every dog year counts for seven human years. The myth has been around for a long time without any evidence to back it up.
Now, researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine have created a new formula that more accurately calculates your dog's real age. The formula relies on the changing patterns of methyl groups in dog and human genomes.
It takes into account the rate and location of these chemical tags as they age and throws the old 1:7 rule of thumb out the window. The scientists say it does more than dispel a long-held myth, it may actually provide a useful tool for veterinarians, and for assessing anti-aging intervention options.
“There are a lot of anti-aging products out there these days — with wildly varying degrees of scientific support,” said senior author Trey Ideker, Ph.D., professor at UC San Diego School of Medicine and Moores Cancer Center.
“But how do you know if a product will truly extend your life without waiting 40 years or so? What if you could instead measure your age-associated methylation patterns before, during, and after the intervention to see if it’s doing anything?”
The formula reveals a new “epigenetic clock." This consists of a method for determining the age of a cell, tissue, or organism based on a readout of its epigenetics. This is not the first time that researchers have published epigenetic clocks for humans.
However, previous versions were limited in that they were only accurate for the specific individuals on whom the formulas were developed. Ideker's formula translates to other people and even other species.
The researcher said that he decided to study dogs because of how closely they live with us, making their environmental and chemical exposures very similar to ours. They also receive nearly the same level of health care.
Ideker also added that it is important that we better understand the animals' aging process as the old incorrect 1:7 years ratio to determine a dog’s age is still being used by veterinarians.