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The science of epigenetics is still emerging, but YouSurance is moving ahead with a downtown Minneapolis skyway storefront to promote the concept and sell life insurance policies that will vary in cost by individual genetic profiles.

The storefront will open Monday, Jan. 14, in the same space in the U.S. Bank Building where the company paid volunteers $100 last fall to submit blood and saliva samples and health information. The submissions were part of the company’s research of epigenetics, or how lifestyle habits and environmental factors alter genetic expression.

Epigenetics should make life insurance cheaper for some and easier to access for all, but a goal of the storefront is to interact with customers and find out whether they are ready for this new approach and interested in life insurance that varies much more by personal health than traditional policies, said Clint Parker, a YouSurance executive vice president.

“Better health equals better premiums,” Parker said while sitting in the new storefront. “We’re going to test that message down here.”

The company is applying technology developed by a leading scientist, at the University of California-Los Angeles, to verify how genetic expressions can reliably identify people’s habits, such as smoking, and predict their longevity.

The recent skyway research was intended to determine whether genetic expressions could be easily identified in saliva, which is easier to obtain than blood. Insurers often lose customers who apply for policies but then don’t want to follow up and schedule blood draws.

Parker said epigenetics is not just about identifying genetic actions, or expressions, that predict future health problems. The science also provides reliable assessments of patient’s existing habits and health.

Currently, life insurance companies check people’s blood for traces of the protein cotinine to find out whether they are smokers, he said. But cotinine can clear the body in two days. Epigenetic testing can identify smoking-related genetic expressions that don’t go away as quickly.

Insurance decisions won’t be made based on an individual’s hard-wired genetic codes, Parker said, but rather on the genetic expressions that reflect lifestyles.

Premiums won’t increase if people’s health worsens, or if they develop new genetic biomarkers that predict health problems, Parker added. Rather, he said, the company will use its epigenetic data to encourage people to make healthy choices that could lengthen their life spans and reduce their premiums.

“We want people,” he said, “to outlive their policies.”

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744 • @stribjo