Longevity not in the Genes

The genes of supercentenarians, the world’s oldest living people, have had their genetic code sequenced by researchers at Stanford University . However, after studying the genomes of these 100 year-old-plus participants, the research team was unable to find any genes that could be strongly linked to an exceptionally long lifespan.

The genomes of seventeen participants over the ago of 100 years were sequenced. The researchers, led by Dr.  Stuart Kim, developmental biology and genetics professor at Stanford University, were interested to observe any similarities in the genomes of these individuals.

The participants were between the ages of 110 and 117 years old. Out of the 17 who took part, 16 were female and only one was male. All of the supercentenarians who took part were American, 15 were of European origin, one was Hispanic and one was African-American. Approximately half of the participants were regular cigarette smokers.

Supercentenarians are people aged 110 years and older and approximately one in every 1,000 centenarians lives to become asupercentenarian. There are currently 74 people who have been recorded as living past the age of 110 years old alive in the world, 22 of which live in the United States. A 2010 study concluded that the majority of people who live to be at least 110 years old resided in the United States, Japan and the United Kingdom. These people are of interest to scientists because they have managed to escape many age-related diseases. One example of this is cancer. In the supercentarian population, the cancer rate is 19 percent, whereas in the general population it is 49 percent.

Dr. Kim explains that this is the first study to look at the genomes of people who have aged very well. He explains that previous studies have only looked at one or two individuals at a time so this sample size, despite being small, was actually the largest so far.

Dr. Kim said that the researchers had been hoping that they would find a gene representing longevity, and that they were very disappointed that they did not find one. What they did conclude was that the genetic effect is very complicated, and  that each individual supercentenarian has different genes, or many genes, that allow them to live so much longer than most other people.

The researchers are still convinced that there is an underlying genetic explanation that accounts for the ability of some people to live to an age that is significantly longer than what is considered to be an average human lifespan. Dr. Kim believes that there is a “genetic underpinning” at work, which decelerates the rate of the aging process in certain people, however, this is likely to be more complicated than a simple gene mutation.

Of the 17 participants observed, none reported to have any particular habits that would explain their ability to live to such an old age. Overall, the group did not have eating habits that would be considered particularly healthy, nor did they have any outstanding exercise regimes.

One of the participants was found to have a pathogenetic variant which is associated with arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC), a heart condition which has had no effect on his or her health.

Misao Okawa is currently the oldest person alive on earth. Okawa believes that good sleep and eating sushi might have been influential in her incredibly long lifespan.

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