Centenarian DNA Aims to Crack Longevity Code

Longevity is an interesting subject, and scientists are about to tackle its mysteries more aggressively.

Even as scientific advances move beyond what we’d imagined just a decade ago, one of the eternal questions of science is what enables some people to make it past 100 years subsisting on a diet of bacon, whiskey and unfiltered Pall Malls, while others can spend their time drinking macrobiotic shakes and jogging and still drop dead in their early 50s. While it’s often possible to mitigate the effects of lifestyle factors- like smoking, exercise levels, diet and even disease- scientists say that to live past 100, genetics is often the overriding factor.

A new study is collecting DNA from patients over the age of 100 in an attempt to unlock the keys to surviving beyond your tenth decade. Dr. Thomas Perls, a geriatrics expert, is among researchers collecting centenarian DNA for the project:

Perls is helping find centenarians for the Archon Genomics X Prize competition. The X Prize Foundation, best known for a spaceflight competition, is offering $10 million in prize money to researchers who decipher the complete DNA code from 100 people older than 100. The contest will be judged on accuracy, completeness and the speed and cost of sequencing.

Dr. Eric Topol is heading up another study, and asks:

“Why are these people Teflon-coated?” Topol asked. “Why don’t they get disease?”

Topol adds:

“There’s been too much emphasis on disorders per se and not enough on the people who are exceptionally healthy,” to learn from their genomes, Topol said. “Now we have the powerful tools to do that.”

Researchers note that the studies are the tip of the iceberg in the potential knowledge contained in centenarian DNA.