Genetic Analysis Of 110-Year-Olds Finds No Secret

Nov 17, 2014

Credit: U.S. Census Bureau, Public Information Office (PIO)

By Francie Diep

Is the secret to long life in a gene? We don’t know, for now. A recent project to read the entire DNA sequence of 17 people aged 110 or older has found… there’s nothing particularly different from ordinary folks.

It is known that super-longevity is inheritable. It runs in families. An analysis of twins suggests human lifespan is 20 to 30 percent genetic. In super-long-lived people, that proportion is higher. Supercentenarians, or those that live past 110, don’t have different smoking, drinking, eating, or exercising habits than the rest of us. It’s in their genes. But where?

One team of geneticists from California and Washington State tried to find out by seeking a single gene variant in their 17 supercentenarians. They wanted a variant that would appear in all the supercentenarians, but not in other folks. That’s when they didn’t find anything.

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3 comments on “Genetic Analysis Of 110-Year-Olds Finds No Secret

  • 1
    Light Wave says:

    The people who live longest do indeed have healthy eating habits…From another article I read a while back said that people in Japan and somewhere in Italy and somewhere in South America people live longest…found that long lived people generally live along the coasts and eat more fish and seafood and lots of veg, they also attribute long life to good water supply – simple but healthy diets and keeping active and connected to their communities….that’s assuming your genes have allowed you to live long enough so that only the external factors can influence your life span….

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  • Under the premise that I’m not a genetist nor a biologist -although I happen to love the subjects-, I’d say that it doesn’t really surprise me that no single gene responsible for a long life was found. I’d expect particular combinations of some -tens, maybe hundreds- of genes to be “responsible” of a long life…

    The statement above is just based on the observation that a natural death is far from a banal happening and the human body undergoes extraordinary changes during a life. Perhaps, to understand “the secret” of a long life we first have to have a pretty solid model of the genetic expression that leads to aging and, eventually, death.

    I recall that in one of Dawkins’ latest documentaries -Sex, Death and the Meaning of Life-, they were talking about the reason why our life doesn’t extends indefinitely but, by programming, it comes to an end. They brought up the example of a mollusc that lives for more than half a millenia because, they argued, that being is capable of reproducing for such a long time. As human being, then, we didn’t need to be alive for more than some tens of years -certainly, not two or three hundred years- because we wouldn’t be able to effectively reproduce for that long. If we hold this explanation valid for our average lifespan* and our death, I’d expect the program governing the evolution of the body and its demise to be a bit more complex than just one gene.

    *also, when we’re talking about humans, I’d say we should keep in mind that we are, effectively, considering the lifespan we achieve in captivity, rather than in the wild: a condition, this, that usually increases the life expectancy of an animal by some large percentage. Actually, I’d say we’re getting to the point where we survive our brains way too often, these days…

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  • Doesn’t the ‘single gene’ concept fly in the face of Darwinism? Geography plays a role (environment) and of course genes (plural) play a role – but it is the combined factors of time, genome, environment and behavior (aka culture) lead a particular set of DNA to have the opportunity to pass a full set of genes along? I love the Human Genome Project, but an over-emphasis on genes ignores the valuable input we impart to our species – we congregate (and conjugate) in environments where we are successful and create environments which reinforce genetic predispositions (not single genes). I appreciate the comments above and the source material – if anything, this data supports that longevity is relative. 100 years (or 110 if you want to split hairs) is such a tiny period of time statistically for what is actually being discussed. Add in the fact that accurate (and computationally relevant) records have only been kept for such a TINY period of time, I think it is liberating that longevity isn’t a switch. What a horrible set of genomic code that might rely upon a single (or small subset) of code to (potentially) over-validate a set of otherwise poor genetic code. Sorry if this diatribe was overly intense – one too many glasses of wine after a few too many cups of coffee (of course, that behavior and propensity will impact my long-term genetic impact one way or the other).

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