A cluster of 150 variations in DNA sequence can be used to predict — with 77% accuracy — whether a person has the genetic wherewithal to live to 100 years old, researchers have found. The finding, published online today in Science, is the result of a trawl through the genomes of more than 1,000 centenarians, scouring about 300,000 sequence variations for possible links to exceptionally long lifespans.
What emerged, found a team led by Thomas Perls, a professor of medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine in Massachusetts, was a complex mix of genetic variants, potentially affecting everything from bone metabolism and hormone regulation to stress responses and brain-cell function. Some of the variants could have a role in staving off debilitating age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease and cardiovascular disease. This complexity has been hinted at in previous experiments, says Thomas Kirkwood, director of the Institute for Ageing and Health at Newcastle University, UK. “The search for single genes with big effects on longevity has not proven fruitful,” he says. “We're not looking for genes that simply specify a clock. The story, when it emerges, will intrinsically be quite complicated.”