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Researchers identify "genetic signatures" of longevity

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Updated 07-22-11: The research described below has been retracted.

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07-01-10: Just yesterday my mom and I were talking about the longevity that runs in our family: My grandmother and the majority of her eight brothers and sisters lived well into their 90s. I've always thought I lucked out, genetically speaking, in the living-long department - so I paid particular attention to big news on the genetics of aging today.

Boston University scientists, who report on their work in Science Express, have identified genetic signatures that appear linked with living a long life. The Washington Post's Rob Stein explains:

The researchers compared the genes of 1,055 centenarians with 1,267 other people to see whether they could identify any unique patterns. Based on that work, the researchers identified 150 genetic variations that appeared to be associated with longevity that could be used to predict with 77 percent accuracy whether someone would live to be at least 100.

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The researchers also found that 40 percent of "super-centenarians" -- those who live to be at least 110 -- had three genetic signatures in common.

The next steps, Stein reports, are to identify the specific genes involved in aging and their exact roles. For now, the researchers plan to make their data available online so that anyone who knows their genome (like our own Stephen Quake, PhD, and, soon, Ozzy Osbourne) will be able to see how many of the longevity gene variants they carry. The question then becomes what people should do with that information:

"What do you do when you're told you absolutely don't have this signature for exceptional longevity? Do you go and do a lot of risk-taking behaviors and say, 'Well, I'm hanging it up'? Or does it give you impetus to take all the more better care of yourself?" [Thomas Perls, MD, MPH, head of the New England Centenarian Study at Boston University]. "I think a lot more study needs to be done."

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