Epigenomic Differences between Newborns and Centenarians Provide Insight to the Understanding of Aging

-The Latest Study was Published Online in PNAS-

An international study, conducted by Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL), BGI, and other collaborators, demonstrates that the DNA methylomes between newborns and centenarians are different, shedding important new light on how epigenetic marks degrade during aging. The latest study was published online in the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on June 11, 2012.

The biology, physiology and medicine related with longevity and aging have been the research focus for decades. Scientists have discovered that genetic factors only contribute about 10 percent to longevity, while environmental factors contribute about 90 percent. Moreover, many identical twins studies have shown that environmentally induced differences are usually acquired via the epigenome.

Knowing that epigenetic modifications, especially DNA methylomes, are involved in numerous biological processes such as in human aging and diseases, researchers in this study performed whole-genome bisulfite sequencing (WGBS) and compared the epigenetic information underlying the newborns, middle-aged persons and centenarians.

Through the analysis, they found that approximately 80% of all possible locations within the newborn’s DNA were methylated, but only 73% of the locations in the centenarian’s DNA were methylated. In all, methylated regions in the centenarian’s DNA were half a million fewer than that in the infant’s DNA. The regions include promoters, exon, intron, and intergenic elements, suggesting a regulated gene expression pattern in the centenarian.

The researchers extended their analysis to include DNA from larger groups of newborns and nonagenarians, and found a similar reduction in methylation of the nonagenarian DNA. Furthermore, analysis on DNA from middle-aged individuals revealed an intermediate level of methylation that fell between the two age extremes. All the results support a model of human aging along with small changes in the epigenome, such as the varying DNA methylation, can accumulate over time and lead to broader changes in gene expression and cell function.

Dr. Ning Li, Director of BGI Europe, said, “The accumulative regulation of DNA methylomes may serve as one of the key marks to track human’s aging process. Our study further identified that epigenetic modifications played a crucial role in the aging mechanism. We look forward to achieving more breakthroughs in epigenomics research.”

Dr. Manel Esteller, PI of this project and Director of Cancer Epigenetics and Biology Program (PEBC), IDIBELL, said, “The research represents one of the few DNA methylation studies developed at a single-base resolution and the first one that analyzes the complete DNA methylome of newborns and centenarians. It provides important clues for the understanding of longevity, aging and their associated diseases, such as cancer.”

About The Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute

The Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL) is a research center created in 2004 and it is participated by the Bellvitge University Hospital, the Catalan Institute of Health, the Catalan Institute of Oncology, and the University of Barcelona. IDIBELL is located at Biopol’H at L’Hospitalet de Llobregat in Barcelona and is member of the Health Universitat de Barcelona Campus.

About BGI

BGI was founded in Beijing, China on September 9th, 1999 with the mission of being a premier scientific partner to the global research community. The goal of BGI is to make leading-edge genomic science highly accessible through its investment in infrastructure that leverages the best available technology, economies of scale, and expert bioinformatics resources. BGI, and its affiliates, BGI Americas, based in Cambridge, MA and BGI Europe, based in Copenhagen. Denmark, have established partnerships and collaborations with leading academic and government research institutions as well as global biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, supporting a variety of disease, agricultural, environmental, and related applications.

BGI has established a proven track record of excellence, delivering results with high efficiency and accuracy for innovative, high-profile research which has generated over 170 publications in top-tier journals such as Nature and Science. These accomplishments include sequencing one percent of the human genome for the International Human Genome Project, contributing 10 percent to the International Human HapMap Project, carrying out research to combat SARS and German deadly E. coli, playing a key role in the Sino-British Chicken Genome Project, and completing the sequence of the rice genome, the silkworm genome, the first Asian diploid genome, the potato genome, and, most recently, 1000 genomes and human Gut metagenome.

For more information about BGI, please visit www.bgiamericas.com or www.genomics.cn.

Contact Information:

Manel Esteller
Cancer Epigenetics and Biology Program (PEBC)
Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL)
[email protected]

Bicheng Yang, Ph.D.
Public Communication Officer
[email protected]


Joyce Peng, Ph.D.
Marketing Director
BGI Americas Corporation
[email protected]