Anti-ageing breakthrough: scientists discover a gene of youthful looks

April 2016: A new study, released yesterday, has uncovered the first genetic evidence explaining the difference between how old we look and our actual age.

First-of-its-kind research

Researchers from Unilever and the Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam, made the discovery through a study of the facial features of 4,000 people. The team determined perceived age through more than 100,000 assessments of photographs, then examined 8 million variants in the participants’ DNA to see whether those who looked young for their age carried different variants from those who looked old for their age.

This first-of-its-kind research – published in the journal Current Biology – discovered that individuals with one form of the MC1R gene looked two years older than those with a different form.

Helping people look younger for longer

Unilever senior scientist and study co-leader Dr David Gunn says: “This research is tremendously exciting and opens up brand new understanding of why some people maintain a more youthful appearance as they age. By learning the ‘secrets’ of those who look young for their age, we can find innovative ways to help everybody keep younger looking for longer. There is more work to be done but we are hopeful that this discovery could influence future product development at Unilever.”

Closer to understanding healthy ageing

The impact of ageing is illustrated by the image opposite, which shows the ‘average’ face of 12 women aged 47 years (right side) and 12 women aged 70 years (left side). It demonstrates how ageing affects the skin through, for example, wrinkling and uneven pigmentation, as well as aspects of facial structure such as lip size and nasolabial folds, also known as smile or laughter lines.

Study co-leader Professor Manfred Kayser from Erasmus MC University says: “Discovering this first gene involved in perceived age is important because it opens the door for identifying more, which we know exist and we now know are possible to find. Our finding marks another step in understanding ageing differences between people and provides new leads to identify the molecular links between perceived age, chronological age and biological age.

“The next step is to understand on the molecular level why looking younger implies that you are healthier, eventually allowing us to comprehend healthy ageing.”

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