Concerns grow over DNA test that determines your lifespan


Scientists and medical ethicist are warning of the dangers posed by a new blood test for determining how fast someone is ageing, as revealed by The Independent yesterday.

The £435 test, due to go on sale to the general public in Britain later this year, measures the length of a person's telomeres, the structures on the tips of the chromosomes which get progressively shorter with age. Short telomeres are linked with age-related diseases and premature death.

Experts are worried that people may misunderstand the limitations of the test, which purports to measure a person's true "biological" age rather than the usual chronological age. They are also concerned that the information may be used by insurance companies and organisations trying to sell fake anti-ageing remedies.

"I'm sceptical and concerned about this test mainly because of the lack of evidence that this information is useful and yet this test touches on really significant issues, such as predictions of life expectancy," said Colin Blakemore, an Oxford neuroscientist and former head of the Medical Research Council.

"My pressing concern is just how reliable these tests are in terms of anything significant. We need to know an awful lot more before we make predictive statements. People worry about how predictive it is."

Thomas Von Zglinicki, a professor of cellular gerontology at Newcastle University, said that it is not yet clear how accurate such telomere tests are when applied to individuals. "To sell this to the public is premature and I will not buy it," Professor Von Zglinicki said.

Medical ethicist Piers Benn, formerly of Imperial College London, said there are wider philosophical dangers of using a test that may estimate how long a person has left to live.

"If we knew when and how we will die, that would influence the way we lived; we shape our future in the light of the uncertainty in which we live," Dr Benn said.

"We need to avoid the fatalism which says that I'm going to die on a certain date so why should I give up smoking or avoiding bad foods."

The Independent revealed yesterday that the Spanish company behind the test, Life Length, is in discussions with a company that operates in Britain to market the test over the counter later this year.

The test's inventor, Maria Blasco of the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre in Madrid, said the test is accurate in detecting dangerously short telomeres which are linked with age-related diseases and premature death.

"We know that people who are born with shorter telomeres than normal also have a shorter lifespan. We know that shorter telomeres can cause a shorter lifespan," Dr Blasco said.

But Josephine Quintavale, of the pressure group Comment on Reproductive Ethics, warned that such tests might be used to marginalise the elderly.

"Sadly, the elderly are already not the most popular members of society when it comes to healthcare allocation and I could definitely foresee a culture of not spending resources on those with short telomeres," she said.

Telling signs

* Telomeres are structures that cap the ends of the cell's chromosomes to stop them from "fraying". They get progressively shorter each time the cell divides until they become so short the cell dies.

* Measuring the length of a person's telomeres is a useful way of determining an individual's "biological" age, rather than their chronological age. A telomere test could therefore be used to assess a person's risk of age-related diseases and premature death.

* Drawbacks to a telomere test focus on how accurate it really is and what information it can provide. Some experts are concerned that they may be used to market anti-ageing products, or they may change the way people live if they believe they have only a certain amount of time before dying.

Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
peoplePamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
newsChester Zoo have revealed their newest members
sportLeague Managers' Association had described Malky Mackay texts as 'friendly banter'
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
tvSpielberg involved in bringing his 2002 film to the small screen
peopleCareer spanned 70 years, including work with Holocaust survivors
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Hydrographic Survey Manager

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Structural Engineer

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Structural Engineer Job...

Generalist HR Administrator, Tunbridge Wells, Kent - £28,000.

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Administrator - Tunbri...

Head of IT (Not-for-Profit sector) - East Sussex

£45000 - £50000 per annum + 5 weeks holiday & benefits: Ashdown Group: Head of...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape