As we grow old white hairs begin to sprout up, our skin wrinkles and invisible changes occur deep inside our cells. Ageing brings wear and tear to our epigenetic machinery - the chemical scaffolding built alongside our DNA which turns genes on or off. This chart compares the strings of genes – the genomes - of a new-born baby, a 26-year-old and a 103-year-old. Epigenetic machinery (coloured dark blue here) surrounds a large portion of the young baby’s genome (the inner circle). This machinery controls the fine balance of genes switched on during early development and drops away (shown as a lighter shade of blue) as we progress through our 20s (middle circle) towards old age (outer circle). Learning more about how epigenetic control is lost with age might allow scientists to pinpoint the genes that increase the risk of cancer in later in life.
Written by John Ankers
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences (the new name for the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre) the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.