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."

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

Voices
Left: An illustration of the original Jim Crowe, played by TD Rice Right: A Couple dressed as Ray and Janay Rice
voices

By performing as African Americans or Indians, white people get to play act a kind of 'imaginary liberation', writes Michael Mark Cohen

News
John Moore inspired this Coca Cola Christmas advert
people

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel your sales role is l...

Agricultural Solicitor - East Midlands

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EAST MIDLANDS MARKET TOWN - A new and exciting...

English Teacher Thetford Secondary

£110 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Cambridge: An Academy based in Thetfor...

Secondary Teacher Great Yarmouth

£115 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad are currently work...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes