Since the discovery of the human genome and its role in health, scientists have been telling us about different disease risks. But how exactly do your genes alter these risks? New research into telomere length and chronic disease risks in a Singapore Chinese study population provides some insight into these relationships.

Throughout life, your cells must divide repeatedly to maintain health and normal bodily functions. When DNA is being replicated for cell division, certain enzymes called polymerases must attach to the DNA strand to carry out the necessary processes. Due to the shapes and sizes of these enzymes, they cannot always reach the end of the strand, and some of the bases are cut off each time it is copied. Fortunately, our DNA has telomeres, which are sequences of repeated bases that exist at the ends of each chromosome. Telomeres shorten over time and this shortening has been associated with aging and chronic diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and respiratory disorders.

In this publication, researchers evaluated the genetic profiles of over 25,000 Singapore Chinese study participants in comparison to the proportions of chronic diseases. They also evaluated the telomere lengths of leukocytes, or blood cells, to identify whether certain genes are related to leukocyte telomere length and chronic diseases. Despite looking at several genes, they found that among their study population, the only significant association discovered existed between having the rs7253490 single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) and an increased risk of death due to respiratory disease. This SNP is located on chromosome 19 where it is responsible for encoding various zinc finger (ZNF) genes important in telomere length and DNA replication processes.

In other words, these results provide additional evidence of the complexity of disease risk and the genetic factors that underlie these risks. If you would like to learn more about this research and the other genes evaluated, you can read the entire publication here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31171785

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Photo by Daniil Kuželev on Unsplash



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