This is the first study to use humans to try to find genes that play a role in life span, said Thomas Perls M.D., M.P.H. one of the studys co-authors, a geriatrician at Beth Israel Deaconess and Director of the New England Centenarian Study. Many investigators thought longevity was far more complex a trait that wouldnt be influenced by just a few genes.
According to Louis M. Kunkel, Ph.D., chief of Genetics at Childrens Hospital Boston and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, whose lab performed the genome-wide scans on 137 sets of two or more exceptionally long-lived siblings in the study, We have known that only a few genes influence longevity in lower organisms and that now appears to be true in humans. One in 10,000 Americans is a centenarian, topping the average life expectancy by 20 years. Despite their rarity, centenarians are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population, according to Perls.
The prevalent belief among researchers in the field of aging research has been that as many as 1,000 genes influence aging. Kunkel, Annibale A. Puca, M.D., and their colleagues in the Division of Genetics at Childrens Hospital Boston were able to pinpoint a region on Chromosome 4 in humans containing one, or at most, a few longevity-related genes by looking at the trait of exceptional longevity, rather than genes responsible for age-related diseases. Having found the region in which this gene or genes lie, the group intends to identify the exact gene or genes responsible for longevity.