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World's oldest woman's DNA sequence revealed

24 October 2011

By George Frodsham

Appeared in BioNews 630

Researchers have fully sequenced the genome of a woman who lived to be 115 years old. She is the longest-surviving person to have their DNA sequenced and the data may help to unlock the secrets of longer life. Initial investigations suggest that the woman may have had genes which provided protection from diseases such as dementia.

The woman, referred to as W115 by the scientists but named as Mrs Hendrikje van Andel-Schipper by the Daily Mail, remained healthy for much of her life. She presented neither symptoms of dementia such as Alzheimer's, nor any serious cognitive deterioration. Whilst van Andel-Schipper chalked up her good health to daily pickled herring, researchers believe she may have had a natural genetic advantage. 'We think that there are genes that may ensure a long life and be protective against Alzheimer's', said study leader Dr Gert Holstege from the VU University Medical Centre in the Netherlands.

The research was presented at the annual conference of the American Society of Human Genetics in Montreal, Canada. It follows on from earlier work by the group into van Andel-Schipper's mental health when she was 112 and 113. In these psychological tests, van Andel-Schipper performed at a level that would normally be expected of someone in their late sixties.

That earlier study had additionally found no traces of any diseases in van Andel-Schipper's brain. They counted the number of neurons in the brain, noting that it 'corresponded with the number of neurons found in the brains of healthy people of 60 to 80 years old'. Van Andel-Schipper also showed no signs of heart disease.

'We know that she's special, we know that her brain had absolutely no signs of Alzheimer's', Dr Holstege told the BBC. 'There must be something in her body that is protective against dementia. We think that there are genes that may ensure a long life and be protective against Alzheimer's'.

However, Dr Jeffrey Barrett, of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge, UK, cautions that there is much more work to be done and more data to be collected before scientists are able to pinpoint any genes responsible for long life. 'Sequencing the genome of the world's oldest woman is an important starting point to understand how DNA variation relates to the process of having a long, healthy life', he told the BBC. 'But in order to really understand the underlying biology of living a long, healthy life, we will need to look at the DNA sequence of hundreds or thousands of people'.

BBC News | 15 October 2011
Live Science | 16 October 2011
Science News | 17 October 2011
The Daily Mail | 15 October 2011
EurekAlert! | 09 June 2008


28 April 2014 - by James Brooks 
Blood tests of a woman who lived to 115 have revealed that when she died the majority of the white blood cells in her body originated from just two stem cells...
18 June 2012 - by Dr Louisa Petchey 
The most extensive catalogue of the trillions of microbes that live in and on humans - called the human microbiome - has been published by an international team of scientists...
31 October 2011 - by James Brooks 
A $10 million prize is on offer for the first laboratory to accurately and economically sequence the genomes of 100 people over 100 years old. The Archon Genomics X Prize was originally founded in 2006 and has been modified so that entrants will now race to decode the centenarians' DNA...

03 October 2011 - by Dr Louisa Petchey 
A gene associated with increased lifespan in a number of organisms is now thought to have no effect on longevity after a second look revealed significant flaws in the original studies on which the assumptions were based. The findings will disappoint the manufacturers of many anti-ageing creams that claim to work by activating the gene, but are unlikely to put a stop to research...
25 July 2011 - by Dr Lux Fatimathas 
The journal Science has retracted a controversial paper on the genetics of extreme longevity by scientists at Boston University. The paper, released online last year, was retracted before publication in print following a formal ‘expression of concern’ regarding fundamental technical flaws....
18 April 2011 - by Dr Nadeem Shaikh 
A research team from King's College London led by Dr Guangju Zhai has completed a meta-analysis of seven genetic studies looking at the role of the hormone, dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate (DHEAS), and how it may affect the ageing process in humans...
11 April 2011 - by Alison Cranage 
International scientists including researchers at Cardiff University, UK and the University of Pennsylvania, USA have discovered five genetic variations associated with Alzheimer's disease. The findings are published in two papers in the journal Nature Genetics...

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