• Otávio Santiago

Longevity in dog years

“I would do anything for my little pom poms to live longer,” tweeted Yasmeen Roumie in late March. She’d just registered two keen-eyed Pomeranians for the X-Thousand Dogs study, an epigenetic research project that could spark the development of new age-fighting pharmaceuticals for dogs. Scientists at Loyal, a San Francisco startup focused on extending your pup’s lifespan, recruited more than 2,000 dogs to build an epigenetic profile to identify biomarkers associated with aging.

Soon after the call for participants, Loyal CEO Celine Halioua was retweeting photos of dog owners ready to swab their pups and mail in samples. From misty-eyed seniors to scruffy mutts, each pup received a packaged treat along with the test kit.

The kits are designed to identify biomarkers known as methylation sites in the doggie DNA. These are places in the genome where a type of non-genetic or “epigenetic” chemical change takes place.

Halioua hopes that her team can correlate changes to specific methylation sites with factors like a dog’s age, its environment, and its overall health—and ultimately quantify the aging process. It would be a step toward predicting and extending a dog’s lifespan and quality of life that could lead to lifespan-extending medications for dogs and humans, too.

“Absolutely, if we live our dreams, you and your dog will both get to take an aging drug,” Halioua says. Gene editing, popularized by CRISPR in recent years, holds promise for helping humans and other organisms stave off illnesses and improve their health. But the complexities of the human genome mean it’s still difficult to map the precise genes responsible for various traits. Predicting the outcomes of genetic changes is even more difficult. Epigenetics skirt these complexities by altering gene regulation rather than the DNA itself. The genetic code itself stays the same, but the body “reads” it differently.

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