Amy Harmon in The New York Times:
As one of the exceedingly rare members of her species to live beyond age 110, Goldie Michelson had divulged her secrets to longevity countless times before dying last year at 113. “Morning walks and chocolate,” the Gloucester, Mass., resident and onetime oldest living American told the steady stream of inquisitors that marked her final years. Unlike the growing ranks of nonagenarians and centenarians, those who breach a 12th decade, known as supercentenarians, rarely face protracted illness or disability before they die, a boon that many of them have ascribed to personal habits. “I try to live the truth,” said Shelby Harris, who threw out the first pitch of the local minor league baseball team’s 2012 season a few months before he died at 111 in Rock Island, Ill. Emma Morano of Verbania, Italy, still cooking her own pasta until a few years before she died last April at 117, prescribed raw eggs, and no husband. But even as they indulged the notion that exceptionally healthy longevity can be explained by lifestyle, each agreed to donate DNA to a private effort to find the secrets in supercentenarian genes. The full genetic sequences of Ms. Michelson, Mr. Harris and Ms. Morano are among some three dozen genomes of North American, Caribbean and European supercentenarians being made available this week by a nonprofit called Betterhumans to any researcher who wants to dive in.
…The rare cache of supercentenarian genomes, the largest yet to be sequenced and made public, comes as studies of garden-variety longevity have yielded few solid clues to healthy aging. Lifestyle and luck, it seems, still factor heavily into why people live into their 90s and 100s. To the extent that they have a genetic advantage, it appears to come partly from having inherited fewer than usual DNA variations known to raise the risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and other afflictions. That is not enough, some researchers say, to explain what they call “truly rare survival,” or why supercentenarians are more uniformly healthy than centenarians in their final months and years. Rather than having won dozens of hereditary coin tosses with DNA variations that are less bad, scientists suggest, supercentenarians may possess genetic code that actively protects them from aging. But the effort to find that code has been “challenged,” as a group of leading longevity researchers put it in a recent academic paper, in part by the difficulties in acquiring supercentenarian DNA.