Why do women tend to live longer than men?

The answer may be linked to their genes, according to a study that suggests women may live longer due to a “genetic legacy”.

The study, led by researchers from the University of Queensland and the University in Queensland, was published online by Nature Communications.

Researchers found that genetic variation in genes called X chromosome genes affects lifespan.

“The genetic legacy of the male to female difference in lifespan is much more complex than previously thought,” the study’s lead author, Dr Susanne Hildreth, said.

X-chromosome genes play a role in ageing.

A person’s age is thought to be determined by a number of genes that are inherited from parents to their children.

But these genes are not necessarily inherited in the same way as genes for physical attributes such as height, weight or eye colour.

“We were looking at the genetic legacy in terms of how the genetic differences between the sexes are related to lifespan and that’s something we’ve known for a long time,” Dr Hildritch said.

“But until now we didn’t have an idea of how this genetic legacy might affect longevity.”

The team analysed a set of genes called SLC44A1 and SLC24A1 in over 4,000 men and women, and found that there was an increased risk of death in men compared to women who carried a particular variant.

They also found a significant difference in longevity between men and females with a different variant of SLC22B1, a gene known to influence body mass index.

Dr Hildroth said it was likely that the increased risk was related to the increased expression of these genes.

“When we think about ageing, the most likely candidate for this would be a gene for an altered expression of the SLC23A2 gene,” she said.

Dr Susanne says the study will be used to inform efforts to develop therapies to extend lifespan.

“The SLC33A gene is associated with the aging process in the brain, but it is a very difficult gene to get rid of, so it has been associated with some of the disease processes associated with ageing, like cognitive decline,” she explained.

“So, there is a potential for future research to be able to look at how to target a gene that has a protective effect against ageing and extend life, to prevent it from deteriorating.”

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