Homing in on a longevity gene

Relatives can drive you crazy, but you’d better hope they enjoy long lives. If your family members live long, the chances improve that you will too (SN: 3/10/01, p. 156: Making Sense of Centenarians).

This observation prompted a research team to study the DNA of 137 families with at least two siblings over the age of 91. A region of chromosome 4 harbors a gene that helps people achieve exceptional longevity, the scientists conclude in the Aug. 28 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“There are 100 to 500 genes [in the region], so we now have to home in on the one or two causing the effect,” says Thomas Perls of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

Linkage studies, the type of statistical analysis performed by Perls’ group, identify DNA sequences shared by people with a particular characteristic. Yet finding such DNA markers gives no guarantee that a relevant gene is nearby. “It is extremely fair and reasonable to look at this study with a healthy dose of skepticism,” says Perls.

He and several of his colleagues have founded a Boston-based firm called Centagenetix to track down longevity genes. To do so, they need more families with several very aged members.