Scientists have found a biological clock that can provide clues about how long a person might live. The researchers found that people whose biological age was greater than their true age were more likely to die sooner than those whose biological and actual ages were the same — regardless of other factors such as smoking, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Researchers looked at nearly 5,000 older people over a 14-year period and measured each person’s biological age by studying a chemical modification to DNA known as methylation.

The research, published online January 30, 2015 in Genome Biology, was led by scientists from the University of Edinburgh in collaboration with researchers in Australia and the U.S. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health scientists involved in the study included co-senior author Andrea Baccarelli, Mark and Catherine Winkler Associate Professor of Environmental Epigenetics, and co-lead author Elena Colicino, a research fellow in the Department of Environmental Health.

“Epigenetic age — fortunately for some and unfortunately for others — is often different from our real age,” said Baccarelli. “We are currently evaluating what causes this epigenetic clock to tick faster or slower and whether diseases typical of older people are predicted or associated with having a faster clock.”

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