Study Identifies Genes Associated with Longer Reproductive Lifespan

23andMe pointed out a new study that identified genes linked to longer fertility in women. The study comes as data shows a sharp decline in birth rates during the pandemic, which accentuated a decades-long trend in women putting off having children until later in life.

The study was published in the journal Nature and was titled: “Genetic insights into biological mechanisms governing human ovarian aging”. The study identified about 300 genetic variants that influence longer reproductive lifespan.

Beyond simply identifying these genetic variants, the scientists were able to manipulate some of those genes in mice to successfully extend the reproductive lifespan. The findings offer some hope to those studying fertility in women. The study also offers insights into identifying which women might reach menopause earlier than others. This in turn could help those women decide on the timing of when or if to have children.

Menopause occurs once most of a woman’s eggs are gone, although fertility substantially declines before that time, making it much more difficult for some women to get pregnant. There are a number of factors playing into the delay in having children, including financial and career considerations. According to newly released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the sharpest drop in childbirth in more than a century.

Many of the genes the study identified are associated with the process of DNA repair and are active before birth when human eggs are created and stored. These include the genes CHEK1 and CHEK2, which regulate a broad variety of DNA repair processes.

The researchers found that that turning off the function of the gene CHEK2, while enhancing the expression of CHEK1, extended the reproductive lifespan in mice by about 25 percent. The study also looked at women who naturally lack an active CHEK2 gene, and found that these women reach menopause on average 3.5 years later than women with a normally active gene.

For this study on reproductive lifespan, the researchers relied on a global collaboration involving more than 180 academic institutions and data from hundreds of thousands of women including 300,000 female customers from 23andMe who consented to participate in research. The researchers also included data from the UK Biobank and several other study cohorts.

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