Genome instability: a conserved mechanism of ageing?

DNA is the carrier of genetic information and the primary template from which all cellular information is ultimately derived. Changes in the DNA information content through mutation generate diversity for evolution through natural selection but are also a source of deleterious effects. It has since long been hypothesized that mutation accumulation in somatic cells of multicellular organisms could causally contribute to age-related cellular degeneration and death. Assays to detect different types of mutations, from base substitutions to large chromosomal aberrations, have been developed and show unequivocally that mutations accumulate in different tissues and cell types of ageing humans and animals. More recently, next-generation sequencing-based methods have been developed to accurately determine the complete landscape of base substitution mutations in single cells. The first results show that the somatic mutation rate is much higher than the germline mutation rate and that base substitution loads in somatic cells are high enough to potentially affect cellular function.

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