Ever wondered how your great-grandmother lived to be 105? A study published by Paola Sebastiani and Dr. Thomas Perls of Boston University helps explain why some people live longer than others. Their study discovered the existence of a longevity gene which they found can be used to predict exceptional longevity with 77% accuracy.
What is The Longevity Gene?
Simply put, the longevity gene is a component of DNA that contributes to longer life expectancy. The longevity gene is not actually a single gene, but 150 separate DNA markers which appear in many people who live well past the average U.S. life expectancy of 78.
How Was the Longevity Gene Discovered?
Researchers analyzed DNA from nearly 1,000 subjects between the ages of 95 and 119. The DNA from the ‘long-living’ test group was compared to DNA from a random control group. Using these DNA comparisons, the scientists were able to discover the variations that help predict longevity.
What is the Impact of the Discovery of the Longevity Gene?
The health community is hopeful that the discovery of the longevity gene could be helpful in developing drugs for age-related diseases such as heart disease and Alzheimer’s, which occur at lower rates in those who live to be over 100. However, there complications for using the gene to predict life expectancy, such as the potential impact on health care premiums.
What is the Controversy Surrounding the Longevity Gene?
Recent controversy has sprouted surrounding the methodology used to discover the gene. The scientists used two different types of DNA chips to identify the gene. False positives can occur when two types are used, because each chip tends to creative different types of errors. While the researchers stand by their methodology, fellow scientists are calling for them to repeat the experiment using a single chip to ensure the results are accurate.
How Can I See if I Have the Longevity Gene?
If you want to see if you carry the longevity gene, you’ll have to wait. No test is currently available, and the researchers have stressed that the results are not ready to be used by the public.
Do Genes Alone Determine Life Expectancy?
Even though you can’t tell if you have the longevity gene or not, you can still make lifestyle changes that will greatly increase your chances of living a long and healthy life. Scientists say that controllable factors are more important than genes in determining life expectancy; studies have shown that genes account for only 20-30% of the chance of surviving past 85. If you are hoping to be a centenarian, be sure to pay attention maintaining a healthy environment and lifestyle.
Mary Carmichael, “The Little Flaw in the Longevity-Gene Study That Could Be a Big Problem,” Newsweek
Nicholette Zelladt, “Significant Faults in ‘Longevity Gene’ Study Surface,” Scientific American
Nicholette Zelladt, “Long Live and Prosper: Genetic Factors Associated with Increased Longevity Identified,” Scientific American
Rachel Bernstein, “Longevity – It’s In Your Genes”, Los Angeles Times