Pittsburgh researchers have identified telomere length as a marker that can predict who is most likely to get colds.
Telomeres are tiny protective structures that sit at the end of every single chromosome in the body. They act like a plastic cap at the end of a shoelace, preventing DNA unravelling every time the body's cells divide.
As we age, they get shorter, making us more susceptible to illness.
However, until now it was not known whether telomere length play a role in the health of young to middle-aged adults, said the researchers from Carnegie Mellon University, Philadelphia.
Now, they have found that telomere length does predict our resistance to upper respiratory infections when we are in our 20s, the Daily Mail reported.
Lead researcher Professor Sheldon Cohen and his team measured the telomere length of white blood cells from 152 healthy volunteers aged 18 to 55.
They were then exposed to a rhinovirus, which causes a common cold, and quarantined for five days to see if they actually developed an infection.
They saw that the participants with shorter telomeres were more likely to become infected by the cold virus.
“Our work suggests the possibility that telomere length is a relatively consistent marker across the life span and that it can start predicting disease susceptibility in young adulthood,” said Professor Cohen.
But he noted that this is preliminary research and further work with other viruses and with natural infections will help clarify its implications.
The findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.