A new study has found that the gene FOXO3A, previously linked to longevity in Japanese people, plays a similar role in Europeans who live to100 and beyond.
The research, carried out at the Christian-Albrechts-University (CAU) in Kiel, compared DNA samples from 388 Germans aged 100 and over, with 731 younger people. The results confirmed that a particular variant of the FOXO3A gene was found to occur more frequently in the group of centenarians.
The recent study at CAU expands upon the surprising results found by an American research team in 2008, which showed an increased prevalence of the genetic variation among Americans of Japanese descent. Amongst the 8000 participants Dr Bradley Willcox had monitored since the 1960s, it was found that the 213 men who lived beyond 95 were leaner, had lower blood sugar levels, lower insulin and glucose levels and were more likely to carry at least one copy of the FOXO3A gene variant.
The significance of the results published from CAU is that by repeating the experiment with different sample populations (a similar research project was carried out in France with the same trend), it is possibly to eliminate uncertainty as to whether the gene was specific to Japanese people. Professor Amlut Nebel, the leader of the research group said: 'This discovery is of particular importance as there are genetic differences between Japanese and European people. We can now conclude that this gene is probably important as a factor in longevity throughout the world'. Such a discovery could potentially lead to better understanding of ageing mechanisms and has implications for lowering risk of age related disease and disability.
Reflecting on the project Dr Friederike Flachsbart, the first author of the report, noted that one of the biggest problems faced in their research was finding enough people aged 100 or over to take part in the study. Nonetheless, with the support of University Hospital Schleswig Holstein's biobank, Dr Flachsbart and her colleagues in Kiel have access to over 660 DNA samples from centenarians, one of the world's largest collections of long-lived research participants.