The human genome was first sequenced in 2000 but only recently has it become readily and commercially viable to analyse a person’s DNA without the need for a high-tech laboratory and a PhD grant. Our genetic information dictates everything from eye colour to how easily we put on weight. While around 99% of human DNA is identical, the remaining one percent determines the things that set us apart from others. Known as polymorphisms, these differences are thought to contribute to everything from how our bodies react after running for a bus to how many wrinkles we’ll have by the time we hit 62.
An individual has over 20,000 genes, so DNA profiling tests have been designed to isolate and examine the genes that play a specific role in particular characteristic. Geneticists at Loughborough University have designed a test called XRPredict which tests 27 genes relating to strength, soft tissue injury, endurance and recovery to produce a fitness profile.
Another is DNA Fit at the four Matt Roberts Personal Training centres around London. Results can determine whether your body is better suited to short bursts of intense exercise such as sprinting or weight lifting, or whether it’s better suited to endurance based exercise such as distance running.
Geneu offer a service where a swab of your DNA is uploaded onto a microchip in their beauty lab on Bond Street. Factors including collagen breakdown rate, weight management, cardiovascular and bone health can all be revealed and within half an hour a 200-page file is presented to you. Short of predicting the time and cause of your own death, these results aim to give each individual a better understanding of their genetic makeup to maximise their future health.
Professor Jess Buxton, a research geneticist and spokesperson for the British Society of Genetic Medicine, has advised taking caution as the results you receive from a DNA profiling test may not give you a complete picture. ‘Looking at gene variants, how prone you are to injury is one thing. But while you might be found to have this gene now, in 10 or 20 years time we might discover new variants and find that you also have another version of a gene we don’t yet know about that protects you from injury.’
Another advance with science and its beauty obsession is the development of anti-ageing processes. (Cue pricked ears and and rejected pots of collagen boosting serums). Scientists still have a way to go before finding the solution for a permanent baby face, but the good news is that they have been able to extend the lives of mice by 20%, which for humans is 15+ years. Recently Harvard scientists were able to reverse the ageing process of mice after rejuvenating worn out organs in elderly mice and regenerating them into healthy animals.
A DNA-based anti-ageing therapy could have a dramatic impact on our health by reducing the burden of age-related health problems, such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, stroke and heart disease, and prolonging the quality of life for an increasingly aged population. Whilst ageing is a natural process, environmental factors including smoking, UV-light exposure and a poor diet also contribute to tissue degeneration. The key to anti-ageing may be found in an protein called telomerase. This enzyme acts to protect telomeres, a DNA cap that can be found at the end of every chromosome in the young but each time a cell divides the telomeres are cut shorter until eventually useful DNA is omitted and that cell line is no longer viable.
Other potential benefits other than plump skin include the reparation of damaged tissues and neuron growth in the brain. Whilst telomerase reactivation might slow the ageing process and make us better equipped to learn new languages at the tender age of 80, it makes the risk of cancer soar. The key thing to remember is that genetics influence roughly 30% of our future health whilst the remaining 70% depends on lifestyle - so it’s back to the pots of Creme de La Mer and nibbling almonds for now.
You can’t change your genes but you can change your life. With apps that measure sleep patterns, tests to measure glucose levels, and heart monitors, it won’t be long before we all have a band similar to FitBit, iWatch or DNA home swab kit which combines all of these for a readily-available profile to take out the guesswork of how we feel, what we should eat and when or how we should exercise. But that wouldn’t be much fun now, would it?
features writer & lifestyle blogger and avid shoe wearer.