Human tissues and organs undergo changes as we grow older. This aging process is regulated by the DNA. Forensic experts from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven's (KU Leuven) forensic biomedical sciences unit are the first to have successfully used this aging process, embedded in our DNA, to predict individuals' age with great accuracy.
The researchers have developed a test to predict an individual's age on the basis of blood or teeth samples. This test may be useful for the police as it can help track down criminals or identify human remains. When forensic experts find traces of blood at a crime scene, they can try to identify the perpetrator on the basis of DNA. From now on, the blood samples can also be used to predict the age of the criminal.
The behavior of organs and tissues in the body depends on which of our genes are activated. As we age, some genes are switched on, while others are switched off. Professor Bram Bekaert said, "This process is partly regulated by methylation, whereby methyl groups are added to our DNA. In specific locations, genes with high methylation levels are deactivated."
Researchers were able to predict individuals' age on the basis of a set of four age-associated DNA methylation markers. The methylation levels of these markers can be used for highly accurate predictions of age. The team was able to determine individuals' age with a margin of error of 3.75 years for blood samples and 4.86 years for teeth.
The authors said, "The new technique is potentially useful in the context of police investigations because it can help determine the age of criminals or unidentified bodies, which in turn can lead to identification."