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Centenarians provide genetic clues to ageing

5 July 2010
Appeared in BioNews 565

Stories about a genetic test to see if you would live to 100 abounded in the UK press last week. Was this hype or something more? The stories arose following the publication of a paper in Science where researchers claimed to have identified regions of the genome linked to exceptional longevity.

The researchers based in Boston analysed the genomes of 1,000 centenarians from New England, and compared their results to 1,200 controls (people under 100). Current estimates suggest that only 1 in 6,000 people live to 100.

The scientists used sophisticated statistical analyses to identify 150 SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) in 19 clusters, which were associated with both longevity and the late onset of conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease.  

The authors were cautious about the results. While they acknowledged that the work was exciting and had great potential, Dr Thomas Perls, Associate Professor of Medicine and Geriatrics at Boston University said in the Daily Mail that: ‘This would not lead to treatments that will get lots of people to become centenarians’.

The Sun reported that the Oxford ethicist Professor Julian Savelescu, who was not involved in the study, believes that: ‘it is in your interests to have this information, because it can help you plan your life’.

Both the authors and commentators, such as Professor Savelescu, acknowledge that environmental factors and accidents play as much part in longevity as our genetic makeup. However, this did not stop tabloids like The Sun from publishing headlines such as ‘Test Says if you will get to 100’.


An age-old puzzle solved: Who will live to be 100
The Globe and Mail |  1 July 2010
Genetic secrets of living to 100
Wired Science |  1 July 2010
Genetic Signatures of Exceptional Longevity in Humans
Science magazine |  1 July 2010
Test says if you will get to 100
The Sun |  2 July 2010
Will you live to 100? Scientists pinpoint 19 markers that tell you if you will have a long life
The Daily Mail |  2 July 2010
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...
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...
6 December 2010 - by Owen Clark 
Serious doubts have been raised over the validity of a study on the genetic basis on longevity published in the journal Science....
12 July 2010 - by Chris Chatterton 
Last week, BioNews reported on a study published in Science that claimed to have identified several gene clusters associated with longevity. The study drew significant media interest but, following the paper's publication, experts have raised concerns about the data...
5 July 2010 - by Dr Sophie Pryor 
When ovaries from young mice were transplanted into aging females, the old mice lived longer and changed their reproductive behaviour, scientists from Japan have found. The findings raise the question of whether a similar effect may be seen in women receiving ovarian transplants...
26 April 2010 - by Dr Charlotte Maden 
The obesity-related gene FTO also plays a role in loss of brain tissue, according to a US study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last week...
28 September 2009 - by Dr Jay Stone 
Dr R. Scott Turner and his team of the Memory Disorders Program at Georgetown University, US, have begun recruiting patients to take part in a gene therapy trial, which hopes to test whether gene therapy using the nerve growth factor (NGF) gene could be used to slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease...
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