Scientists Create 'Clock' That Measures Biological Age

This enables scientists to determine an organism's biological age with high precision.
Derya Ozdemir
Hourglass sands fallingYinYang/iStock

Everyone probably knows a 60-year-old who can run a marathon or hold a plank for 7 minutes, and a 20-something who has constant back pain and is left breathless after taking a few stairs. Even though two people may be at the same chronological age- whatever your driver's license says-, their biological age can differ significantly since everyone ages differently.

Researchers at the University of Cologne have developed an "aging clock" that can read the biological age of an organism from its gene expression, the transcriptome. 

Described as "a transcriptome-based aging clock near the theoretical limit of accuracy" by the researchers in a study published in Aging Cell, the model was achieved using the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans.

While scientists have been able to use aging clocks to determine an organism's biological age, the transcriptome wasn't used since it was considered too complex to indicate age and it hasn't been possible to develop aging clocks based on gene activity.

The researchers, bioinformatician David Meyer and geneticist Professor Dr. Björn Schumacher, director of the Institute for Genome Stability in Aging and Disease at the CECAD Cluster of Excellence in Aging Research and the Center for Molecular Medicine Cologne (CMMC), developed an approach that takes into consideration the set of genes that are read from DNA to make proteins for the cell and uses a mathematical trick to eliminate the differences in gene activity, Science Daily reported.

Their aging clock divides genes into two groups, 'on' or 'off', to minimize high variation, making the aging predictable from the transcriptome.

"Surprisingly, this simple procedure allows very accurate prediction of biological age, close to the theoretical limit of accuracy. Most importantly, this aging clock also works at high ages, which were previously difficult to measure because the variation in gene activity is particularly high then," said Meyer.

The new method not only allows researchers to predict the pro- and anti-aging effects of gene variants, but it also has more benefits. 

"BiT age can also be applied to predict human age quickly and with very high accuracy. Measuring biological age is important to determine the influence of environment, diet or therapies on the aging process and the development of age-related diseases," Schumacher explains. This clock could therefore find wide application in aging research. Since BiT age is based purely on gene activity, it can basically be applied to any organism."

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