Before I chose Churro to be my dog, I looked at older dogs to adopt. Why? Because they are cute and I believe that the elderly need a nice place. Older dogs need maybe more care in terms of health but they aren’t that active as a small puppy anymore. Well, long story short, Pierre didn’t approve of the idea because he thought that I would be just too sad when the dog would die within the first years with us. So I finally found Churro, who celebrated his 4th birthday. This is an estimation as he was found on the street without, you know, a birth certificate in his suitcase.
His 4th birthday would make him 28 in human years. Perfect! Not a teenager anymore but not yet a very old man. ‘Till I found some research on the net. Or an article at least. Researchers found a more accurate formula to calculate they real human years of a dog.
The formula is based on the changing patterns of methyl groups in dog and human genomes — how many of these chemical tags and where they’re located — as they age… it turns out it’s not a perfectly linear comparison, as the 1:7 years rule-of-thumb would suggest.
Wait what? Churro would be 52? And Tom Hanks? I can’t!
The researchers say it may provide a useful tool for veterinarians, and for evaluating anti-aging interventions. The formula provides a new “epigenetic clock,” a method for determining the age of a cell, tissue or organism based on a readout of its epigenetics — chemical modifications like methylation, which influence which genes are “off” or “on” without altering the inherited genetic sequence itself.
Ideker and others have previously published epigenetic clocks for humans, but they are limited in that they may only be accurate for the specific individuals on whom the formulas were developed. They don’t translate to other species, perhaps not even to other people. If your eyebrows rise while reading this, consider reading yesterday’s post on the ethics of research and animal suffering.
“Dogs are an interesting animal to study”, Ideker said. “Given how closely they live with us, perhaps more than any other animal, a dog’s environmental and chemical exposures are very similar to humans, and they receive nearly the same levels of health care. It’s also important that we better understand their aging process”.
Next, the researchers plan to test other dog breeds, determine if the results hold up using saliva samples, and test mouse models to see what happens to their epigenetic markers when you try to prolong their lives with a variety of interventions.