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The genetic secret for a long life is... still unknown

18 November 2014
Appeared in BioNews 780

Scientists are still searching for a key piece of the longevity puzzle, having not found anything remarkable in the genes of 'supercentenarians' - people who live beyond 110 - to explain their long lives.

The study, conducted by scientists at Stanford University in the USA, sequenced the genomes of 17 people in this elite group. The results were compared with whole genome data from 4,300 'normal' people. In their final analysis the researchers conclude that it is 'extremely unlikely' that any one genetic variant could account for the subjects' remarkable longevity.

'We were looking for a really simple explanation in a single gene,' confirmed Professor Stuart Kim, who led the study. 'We know now that it's a lot more complicated, and it will take a lot more experiments and a lot more data from the genes of more supercentenarians to find out just what might account for their ages.'

But the study group's varied lifestyles mean that the researchers remain convinced the answer does lie in genetics and not environment. The group's smoking, alcohol, exercise and diet habits appear to be in-line with the general population. Furthermore, the immediate families of the supercentenarians lived well beyond average life expectancy - although this does not rule out environmental influence.

The study did note average rates of cancer, heart disease, and stroke in the group, 16 of which were women. Only one, an Alzheimer's patient, had any signs of a major age-related disease.

'These supercentenarians have a different clock where they are staying really highly functional for a long time', Professor Kim told Reuters.

The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE.

'A lot more data' needed to determine what makes supercentenarians live so long
Scope (Stanford Medicine blog) |  13 November 2014
Four years spent on the hunt for elusive longevity gene in humans
SFGate |  12 November 2014
No magic gene behind supercentenarians' longevity
New Scientist |  12 November 2014
Scientists scour the genomes of people who live past 110
Reuters |  12 November 2014
Whole-Genome Sequencing of the World’s Oldest People
PLoS One |  12 November 2014
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