Longevity genes

Scientists discover what makes us live longer

New test unlocks secrets of life expectancy by predicting which of us will reach 100

A genetic test has been developed that can predict whether someone is likely to live an extremely long life, but scientists have warned that society is still not ready for such predictions.

The test is based on a scan of a person's entire genome; so far it can predict whether someone is likely to live to 100 with an accuracy of 77 per cent. However, refinements to the test will improve its precision, raising the prospect that it could one day be used to predict whether someone is genetically predisposed to extreme longevity.

Commercial organisations are likely to market the test within a few years. But the scientists behind the research warn that there should be a public debate on the ethical implications behind such testing.

Researchers developed the test by analysing the genomes of 1,055 centenarians from different parts of the world and comparing slight variations in their DNA with the genetic makeup of a set of people younger than 100. The scientists found that by concentrating on just 150 individual mutations in the human genome, they could predict with 77 per cent accuracy whether someone belonged to the group of centenarians. Although the test is still at a rudimentary stage, scientists said that they could foresee it being developed commercially within a few years to identify people with an inherited predisposition to live a long life that is likely, until the final years, to be largely free of age-related disorders such as cancer and heart disease.

Thomas Perls of the Boston University School of Medicine, who led the study published in the journal Science, said the aim of the research was to understand the genetic reasons why some people live longer than others despite having similar lifestyles.

"We embarked on the study to understand the genetics of exceptional longevity," Professor Perls said. "Clearly we realise that this is a very complex genetic puzzle. Exceptional longevity is not the vacuous entity that some people make it out to be. This really opens the door to understanding the genetic and lifestyle determinants of longevity."

Professor Perls said that a predictive accuracy of 77 per cent is "fairly unprecedented" and there is nothing to stop biotechnology companies from using this information, which is now freely available in the public domain, to develop commercial tests for extreme longevity. But he warned: "I for one don't think we're ready from a social point of view, but I think that won't stop companies from trying to market this."

The scientists found that 90 per cent of the centenarians in the study possessed a definite "genetic signature" of extreme longevity, denoted by the particular combination of genetic mutations they carried. The researchers also found that 45 per cent of the oldest centenarians – those over the age of 110 – had a genetic signature with the highest proportion of longevity-associated mutations.

Professor Perls said: "These genetic signatures are a new advance towards personalised genomics and predictive medicine, where this analytic method may prove to be generally useful in prevention and screening of numerous diseases, as well as in the tailored uses of medications."

Extreme longevity is known to have a strong genetic component as it tends to run in families, though a healthy lifestyle is also important. The team concluded: "This prediction is not perfect, and although it may improve with better knowledge of the variations in the human genome, its limitations confirm that environmental factors, for example lifestyle, also contribute in important ways to the ability of humans to survive to very old ages."

Scientists have tried for decades to find the genetic basis of human longevity by investigating the genes that influence ageing in a range of lifeforms, from simple yeast cells to laboratory strains of mice.

In 2008, scientists managed to extend the life of yeast cells tenfold by altering their genetic make-up and putting them on a calorie-restricted diet, which is widely observed to increase longevity across the animal kingdom. The search of similar "ageing genes" in humans, however, has had limited success.

But following the completion of the mapping of the human genome, it is now possible for scientists to scan the entire DNA of a person to identify the many different inherited traits that may be linked with a particular condition, whether it is an age-related illness such as coronary heart disease or cancer, or extreme longevity.

Paola Sebastiani, who worked with Professor Perls on the study, said: "The methodology we developed can be applied to other complex genetic traits, including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's, cardiovascular disease and diabetes."

Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Esteban Cambiasso makes it 3-3
premier league
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
people'I hated him during those times'
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleFirst memoir extracts show she 'felt pressured' into going out with the Sex Pistols manager
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late
Lewis Hamilton in action during the Singapore Grand Prix
Formula OneNico Rosberg retires after 14 laps
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam