Super Agers

October 17, 2011

Torah Kachur


For some people, living to be over 100 years old involves being pushed around in a wheelchair while drooling on yourself or sitting in your own excrement.  But for a rare few, living to be a centegenarian is complete with dancing, memories and sudoku.  Perhaps there is more to aging well than just eating right and exercising....


This week at the International Congress of Human Genetics in Montreal, a Dutch research group revealed that they had fully sequenced the genome of a woman that lived to be 115 years old.  And this was no diaper-wearing, oxygen-mask carrying grannie - this woman lead a fully productive life and had no signs of dementia both at the intellectual level as well as the cellular level.  In other words, she was perfectly healthy until she finally died of a stomach tumour.  115 years old - that means she was born in 1895, that's before the internet - so basically before life itself


Her DNA sequence will contribute to our understanding of a very small percentage of the population we call 'super-agers' but it will likely not reveal some magic aging bullet.  Genetic determinants of aging do not follow that simple Punnett Square formula that undergrads know and love, instead the vast majority of human traits are determined by subtle contributions of many different genes.


Part of cellular aging is that the normal cellular processes lose their efficiency because of accumulation of damage from the environment or from accumulation of mutations in the DNA.  It could be that this lucky woman inherited the most efficient forms of the genes involved in processes like clearing aggregated proteins that are known to lead to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.  And maybe she also inherited subtly more effective enzymes involved in clearing cholesterol from the blood.  But each of these slight differences from the normal population likely will involve many different genes.  So don't start thinking that we can engineer  your next kid to live to be 130.


The applications of this research is still ages away, the DNA from one person is not sufficient to draw any fundamental conclusions, however - if there are any of you super-agers reading this - please donate your DNA to science, so we can all have seniors discounts for half our lives.



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