New research shows that scientists may want to focus their efforts on “longevity” genes rather than specific genes that may make people susceptible to diseases. A study of centenarians (adults aged 100 or more) conducted by researchers at the University of Boston indicates that a certain set of “protective” genes that they have in common is the major factor in their longevity.
The researchers found that the centenarians had just as many “disease-causing” genes as the general population, but that a set of 150 “longevity” genes apparently negated the debilitating ones. The 150 genetic variants are able to predict extreme longevity with an accuracy of 77 percent.
The longer-term ramifications of these findings is that, within the next decade, when it becomes affordable for people to identify their full genome, they will be able to more accurately tell their chances of living an extremely long life. Researchers were a little apprehensive as to how people would react to such news: would people take on more risky, unhealthy behaviors if they knew they were or were not going to live a longer-than-average life, etc. The effects of knowing such things could be significant.
The Boston University team analyzed the genomes of 1,055 centenarians, considered a relatively small sample by many scientists. However, living past 100 years of age is such an extreme form of longevity, the researchers said, any significant genes that were identified were so powerful that it offset the increased margin for error in the small sample size.
The scientists said more than three-quarters of the sample had the “longevity” genes but many did not have any, which means there are still many genes that still need to be identified. Among super-centenarians who lived to be at least 110 years old, 40 percent had three genetic signatures in common.
There are about 80,000 centenarians living in the U.S. at any given time, said the scientists, who also postulated that about 15 percent of the population may be genetically inclined to live to be 100 – but accidents or unhealthy lifestyles prevent them from doing so.
Centenarians typically come from families that display a longer-than-average life span, so the findings in the above study, to be published in the journal Science, were not completely surprising. However, researchers stated that much more research is needed in order to refine the preliminary study. They also said it is a bit premature for companies to begin planning a test for old-age predictability.
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