DNA Methylation Clocks and Their Limitations

Journal Club October 2023


The Journal Club is a monthly livestream hosted by Dr. Oliver Medvedik which covers the latest aging research papers.The Journal Club is a monthly livestream hosted by Dr. Oliver Medvedik which covers the latest aging research papers.

The Journal Club returns on Friday October 27th at 11:30 am Eastern time on the Lifespan.io Facebook page.  We will be discussing the new paper from Conboy et al. which examines current DNA methylation clocks and their limitations in the context of aging. They also developed a “noise barometer” to measure the epigenetic impact of aging. We will be joined on this episode of the Journal Club by two of the authors of the paper, Drs. Irina and Michael Conboy.


This study shows that Elastic Net (EN) DNA methylation (DNAme) clocks have low accuracy of predictions for individuals of the same age and a low resolution between healthy and disease cohorts; caveats inherent in applying linear model to non-linear processes. We found that change in methylation of cytosines with age is, interestingly, not the determinant for their selection into the clocks. Moreover, an EN clock’s selected cytosines change when non-clock cytosines are removed from the training data; as expected from optimization in a machine learning (ML) context, but inconsistently with the identification of health markers in a biological context. To address these limitations, we moved from predictions to measurement of biological age, focusing on the cytosines that on average remain invariable in their methylation through lifespan, postulated to be homeostatically vital. We established that dysregulation of such cytosines, measured as the sums of standard deviations of their methylation values, quantifies biological noise, which in our hypothesis is a biomarker of aging and disease. We term this approach a “noise barometer” – the pressure of aging and disease on an organism. These noise-detecting cytosines are particularly important as sums of SD on the entire 450K DNAme array data yield a random pattern through chronology. Testing how many cytosines of the 450K arrays become noisier with age, we found that the paradigm of DNAme noise as a biomarker of aging and disease remarkably manifests in ~1/4 of the total. In that large set even the cytosines that have on average constant methylation through age show increased SDs and can be used as noise detectors of the barometer.


Mei, X., Blanchard, J., Luellen, C., Conboy, M. J., & Conboy, I. M. (2023). Fail-tests of DNA methylation clocks, and development of a noise barometer for measuring epigenetic pressure of aging and diseaseAging15(17), 8552–8575. https://doi.org/10.18632/aging.205046
About the author

Steve Hill

Steve serves on the LEAF Board of Directors and is the Editor in Chief, coordinating the daily news articles and social media content of the organization. He is an active journalist in the aging research and biotechnology field and has to date written over 600 articles on the topic, interviewed over 100 of the leading researchers in the field, hosted livestream events focused on aging, as well as attending various medical industry conferences. His work has been featured in H+ magazine, Psychology Today, Singularity Weblog, Standpoint Magazine, Swiss Monthly, Keep me Prime, and New Economy Magazine. Steve is one of three recipients of the 2020 H+ Innovator Award and shares this honour with Mirko Ranieri – Google AR and Dinorah Delfin – Immortalists Magazine. The H+ Innovator Award looks into our community and acknowledges ideas and projects that encourage social change, achieve scientific accomplishments, technological advances, philosophical and intellectual visions, author unique narratives, build fascinating artistic ventures, and develop products that bridge gaps and help us to achieve transhumanist goals. Steve has a background in project management and administration which has helped him to build a united team for effective fundraising and content creation, while his additional knowledge of biology and statistical data analysis allows him to carefully assess and coordinate the scientific groups involved in the project.