June 2, 2021 – We can learn a lot from our elders, not only from their experience, but also from their genes, say Italian scientists who, for the first time, have decoded the DNA of people over 100 years old to understand how they avoided age-related illnesses.
“The threshold of 105 is really difficult to cross and those who cross it are really great athletes in terms of aging”, according to Paolo Garagnani, PhD, associate professor of general pathology at the University of Bologna.
These “super centenarians” are remarkable because they also tend to avoid the long periods of illness that so often overshadow the last years of an older person’s life, he says.
To find out what separates the oldest from the average elderly, Garagnani and his team scoured Italy looking for people who turned 105 and sequenced their genomes to find out how they might have lived so long.
Italy is ideal for such research because its population has one of the longest life expectancies in the world and the Catholic Church in the region keeps accurate baptismal records, which helps researchers verify age. people.
Scientists took blood samples from 81 people and performed whole genome sequencing to look for differences between centenarians and younger ones. And they found that people who live beyond 100 tend to have a unique genetic makeup that makes their bodies very efficient at repairing DNA.
Scientists have also identified five common genetic changes between two genes, the COA1 and STK17A. These genes are involved in areas important to the health of human cells and the development of cancer, heart attacks and strokes, which are diseases for which centenarians seem to be less at risk, Garagnani says.
Most of the people scientists met lived independently after the age of 100 and were not held back by the disease. Often people who live that long, he explains, tend to die suddenly. “When enough is enough for them, they are gone in a few days or a week.”
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