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DNA methylation-based forensic age estimation in human bone

NCJ Number
American Journal of Physical Anthropology Volume: 171 Dated: 2020 Pages: 104-105
Date Published

This study produced genome-wide DNA methylation data from 32 individual bone samples.


DNA methylation is an epigenetic modification of cytosine nucleotides that represents a promising suite of aging markers with broad potential applications, particularly in determining an individual’s age from skeletal remains. This is an enduring problem in the field of forensic anthropology and one that epigenetic markers are particularly well-suited to address; however, all DNA methylation-based age prediction methods published so far focus on tissues other than bone. Although high accuracy has been achieved for saliva, blood, and sperm, which are easily accessible in living individuals, the highly tissue-specific nature of DNA methylation patterns means that age prediction models trained on these particular tissues may not be directly applicable to other tissues. Bone is a prime target for the development of DNA methylation-based forensic identification tools, since skeletal remains are often recoverable for years post-mortem and well after soft tissues have decomposed. The current study analyzed its new dataset alongside published data from 133 additional bone donors, both living and deceased. It performed an epigenome-wide association study on this combined dataset to identify 108 sites of DNA methylation that show a significant relationship with age (FDR < 0.05). It also developed an age-prediction model using lasso regression that produces highly accurate estimates of age from bone spanning an age range of 49-112 years. This study demonstrates that DNA methylation levels at specific CpG sites can serve as powerful markers of aging and can yield more accurate predictions of chronological age in human adults than morphometric markers. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2020