Longevity Genes May Predict Who Has the DNA to Live

Testing for a genetic pattern found in centenarians may predict with 77 percent accuracy which people are among the 3 in 1,000 Americans with the DNA to live past age 100, a study found.

Research on 1,055 people older than 100 identified 150 gene variations that were the most predictive of who was long-lived, according to the study from Boston University and Italy. Most of the centenarians were grouped into 19 clusters of genetic signatures linked to the age of onset of such diseases as dementia, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease, the researchers said.

The prediction of longevity was imperfect, confirming that diet and exercise are among the environmental factors also contributing to survival, according to the study. Still, the analysis of longevity genes may prove useful in screening for age-related diseases and tailoring the use of medicines, the authors said today in the journal Science.

“These findings could point toward drugs that would mimic the effects of the gene signatures that delay the onset of age-related diseases,” said Paola Sebastiani, the paper’s lead author and a professor of biostatistics at Boston University School of Public Health.

Such treatments may still be years away as the researchers don’t understand yet the role played by 150 genetic markers of longevity in the centenarians, Sebastiani said.

Life Expectancy

Average life expectancy in the U.S. is 78.3 years for a person born in 2010, according to U.S. Census data. The census estimated that 3 of every 1,000 Americans, or 104,754 among 309.6 million, were centenarians as of Nov. 1, and the number will increase by more than fivefold by 2050.

The centenarians didn’t differ from the 1,267 people in a comparison group in terms of the large number of genes associated with common diseases, the study showed. It is possible that the centenarians’ genetic signatures cancel out the effect of the disease-linked genes, said the researchers.

“These are all hypotheses that have to be tested,” said Sebastiani. “We have created a long list of homework for a lot of investigators.”

Participants in the study were Caucasian and the analysis didn’t find differences in the genetic signatures of different European ethnicities, Sebastiani said. The researchers hope that the findings inspire scientists in other countries to do similar studies on other races, the author said.

Understanding the genes that influence longevity in humans will be a fertile area for research in human biology, Misha Angrist, assistant professor at the Duke Institute of Genome Sciences and Policy, whose DNA was decoded as part of Human Genome Project two years ago, said in a telephone interview. Angrist was not involved in the study released today.

“Our research and our health-care paradigm have been very disease-centric because we want to alleviate human suffering,” Angrist said. “But to alleviate suffering I would argue that it’s just as important to study humans who have seemingly done very well in the game of life.”

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