The negative effects of smoking on people’s health is well documented and it is widely recognised as a very dangerous habit. Despite this, around 10 million adults in the UK smoke and of these, approximately 100,000 people will die each year from a smoking-related illness.  These figures represent a tiny amount of the world’s population who will suffer from this deadly habit, and because of this, much work is still being done to battle the effects this has on people’s health.

Along with a hugely increased chance of having a heart attack, cancer is the most commonly recognised danger to health through smoking. Smoking causes an acceleration of the aging process and can lead to the onset of the deadly diseases mentioned, however, research has shown that not all smokers suffer early mortality, and in fact live to extreme ages with minimal side effects to their health. A study published recently in ‘The Journals of Gerontology, Series A: Biological Sciences & Medical Sciences’ used a group of long-lived smokers as the phenotype for their research. The research identified that of this population there was a commonly occurring DNA sequence which allowed these individuals to better tolerate the damage that long-term smoking causes. These DNA sequences (SNP’s) were strongly associated with high survival rates.

It was identified that this set of genetic markers worked by way of promoting longevity, successfully enabling a prolonged lifespan through facilitating cellular maintenance and repair. In simpler terms, these individual’s bodies are better set up to withstand the effects of long-term smoking. This finding proposes the notion that longevity could be regulated by complex genetic networks as appose to exclusively environmental factors. These findings provide sufficient evidence to suggest that long lived smokers possess a very special set of genetic variants which allow their bodies to react differently to the stresses of smoking.  

As a smoking-related finding this is huge. What could be even bigger is how this could help the research into cancer on the whole. The genes that were discovered were identified with an 11% lower prevalence of cancer. As cancer pathogenesis has been widely recognised as a result of genomic instability, the gene sequences found in long-lived smokers which can positively affect genomic stability could be a vital tool in the fight against other forms of cancer.



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