What Can Centenarians' Genes Tell Us About Getting Old?

By Joseph Calamia | July 1, 2010 5:23 pm

oldfellowUPDATE: Some experts are questioning the validity of this study, and are suggesting that technical errors skewed the results. Full coverage here.

If you want to know how to get old, it’s best to ask the experts. That’s what Paola Sebastiani, a researcher at Boston University School of Public Health, did;  She decided to look at the genes of 1,055 people, many who had already seen their 100th birthday.

As described in a paper published in Science today, Sebastiani’s team found that they could predict a person’s  “exceptional longevity” with 77 percent accuracy.

The researchers looked at small variants called single-nucleotide polymorphisms (or SNPs) on the centenarians’ genomes;  Sebastiani found she could use 150 SNPs to predict who would live to such exceptional ages.

For the centenarians, Sebastiani found, living long didn’t require avoiding the variants that cause disease, but instead having other, protective variants to delay disease. Of the 150 variants, Sebastiani saw differences between the specific variants that each person in the group had, meaning, as she told the AP, that there are “different paths of longevity.”

Because these variants delay the exceptionally old from getting exceptionally sick, it seems living a long time can still mean living well.

“A lot of people might ask, ‘well who would want to live to 100?’ because they think they have every age-related disease under the sun and are on death’s doorstep, and certainly have Alzheimer’s’, but this isn’t true,” [coauthor Thomas] Perls told reporters in a telephone briefing. “We have noted in previous work that 90 percent of centenarians are disability-free at the average age of 93.” [Reuters]

To find out more about this study and how it fits with others on living a long and healthy life, see Ed Yong’s post on Not Exactly Rocket Science.

Related content:
Not Exactly Rocket Science: Genetic signatures for extreme old age accurately predict odds of living past 100
80beats: A Life-Extending Coup: Flies That Can’t Smell Food Live 30 Percent Longer
80beats: Low-Calorie Diet Staves off Aging & Death in Monkeys
80beats: Immunosuppressant Drug Extends Lifespan of Elderly Mice
80beats: Stress–the Genetic Kind–Really Can Make Hair Go Gray

Image: flickr / Adrian Wallace

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
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