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."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all