If you have short telomeres, you’re basically screwed. We’ve known these dwarfed pieces of DNA are connected to aging-related disorders like dementia and heart disease, but they also might make you more likely to catch a cold.
What’s a telomere and why do you need it? They’re the caps on the ends of chromosomes, the protectors of genes, without which genes can be degraded and truncated. Every time a gene is replicated, a telomere is shortened. Once they’re gone, it means the cell can’t divide anymore, so the cell dies. At least that’s the way it’s supposed to work.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have, for the first time, found abnormal telomeres culpable for illnesses in healthy, young people. They took a sample of 152 adults (ages 18-55), and gave them nasal drops that contained the cold virus for six days. Of those, 105 became infected and 33 developed full-blown colds.
So where’s the link? Researchers found that among four blood types, there was a bigger risk for infection, specifically in a certain T-cells — the type of white blood cell that protects your body from illness — with shorter telomeres. And that link was only stronger with older participants.
Why are telomeres the genetic scapegoats? The researchers think that T-cells with smaller caps might not proliferate as well as their taller counterparts. That means it’s harder for the cell to respond and clear out the infected cells when you get sick. Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do about the genes you’re born with. [LA Times via Digg]