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
  • http://80Beats/Discover Audrey Wiseman

    I had breast cancer, and had surgery for it and radiation. I am 76 and my memory is not top-notch any more. Can those brain cells interfered with by radiation ever be replaced by healthy ones, or am I stuck with a poorer than before memory the rest of my life??

  • 34RB21CB

    The brain is very adjustable. It will adjust to any changes that have been made to it. Although, a brain does need excersise and nutrition just like other organs in the body.

  • G Hutchinson

    Audraey, My family, on both sides, live into their late nineties. I am nearly 85 yrs old and take no medications. The ELF/EMF in my condo was making me sleepy and giving me Vertigo when I got up. I have been measuring it with an EMF Meter purchased from Edmund Scientific for $25.00. I have been working with the Electric Company, the Town Supervisor and the House inspector to eliminate it. http://www.mercola.com is an excellent website addressing these and other health matters. May I suggest that you take the follow vitamins — Norwegien Fish Oil campsules and Vitamin B5, Pantothenic Acid caps, 250 mg each everyday, purchased from http://www.TwinLab.com. Both have kept my memory in good order to be very active in the Community to help our returning Veterans. Best of good health to you. — G Hutchinson

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