A recent study by the British Heart Foundation has discovered that ageing may actually begin in the womb rather than the moment you are born. The scientists involved in the study have also found that the amount of oxygen a baby receives in the womb can have an effect on their genetic age when they are born.
At the ends of each chromosome there are telomeres which become shorter and shorter as an organism ages. Observing the length of these telomeres can be used as a proxy to measure ageing. This is what is meant when referring to “genetic age”.
|Location of a telomere on a chromosome|
The study involved providing a portion of pregnant rats with antioxidants while the rest were being cared for in a room with 7% less oxygen. When each group of rats had given birth it was found that the offspring of those that were provided antioxidants had longer telomeres in their blood vessels than those cared for in the room with less oxygen. This meant that those with shorter telomeres aged more quickly and were predisposed to developing heart disease earlier in their life.
Mothers who smoke while they are pregnant have lower levels of oxygen in the womb which can affect their unborn baby just as was simulated with the rats. This could mean that mothers who do this not only subject their babies to a list of possible medical issues but also age their baby faster in the womb. When it comes to heart disease, this study is significant because it provides evidence that the environment an organism is exposed to in the womb can be as influential as obesity and smoking outside the womb.
I found the concept of this study to be interesting as it is bizarre to think that we can age before we are even born. While I am aware that the British Heart Foundation conducted this study around the conditions of heart disease it would be interesting to see how this slowed/accelerated aging would affect the likeliness of developing other disease or conditions and what else could affect this process in the womb