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From alchemists and the Philosopher’s Stone to Ponce de Leon and the Fountain of Youth, history is full of stories of people searching for a way to extend life indefinitely. In recent years, discoveries about the biology of aging have brought us closer to that dream than ever before. Now 23andMe is asking you, our customers, to help push science even further by participating in our new Longevity Survey.
Human life expectancy is now close to 78 years. Back in 1900, the average person was expected to live only about 47 years. The oldest person so far whose age was verified by official documents was Jeanne Calment of France, who died at the spectacular age of 122 in 1997, but one aging researcher at the University of Texas Health Science Center has bet that someone will have lived to be 150 years old by the year 2150! Our improved understanding of health and human biology, including the development of antibiotics, has helped to fuel this huge increase in how long we expect to live.
We all know that environmental factors and lifestyle factors are important when it comes to attaining a ripe old age. You have to eat right, exercise enough, and avoid all those vices like smoking and too much drinking. But it’s not all what you do and how you live that determines whether you’ll live a long life, and if you do, whether you’ll be in good shape. Genes are involved in aging as well.
A lot of the work on understanding the genetic factors involved in aging have been done in laboratory animal models. Mutations in a gene called daf-2 in soil worms can double their lifespan. Similar mutations can make fruit flies live up to 80% longer, and mice 30% longer than normal. Daf-2 makes a protein that’s similar to one that binds insulin, the hormone that regulates glucose intake from your blood. Some have speculated that daf-2 mediates the the longevity effects of dietary restriction (consuming a significantly reduced number of calories without malnutrition), which has been shown to extend the lifespan of both mice and monkeys.
That’s all well and good if you’re a worm or a fly or a mouse, but what about people? Well, there’s some progress in understanding aging in us too. Studies have shown that variants in the APOC3 gene and the FOXO3A gene are associated with longevity. On the flip side, researchers have discovered that mutations in the RECQL2 gene cause Werner’s syndrome, a disease that manifests as accelerated aging.
Our DNA is likely to hold many more of the secrets to living a long, healthy life. That’s why 23andMe wants to do research to understand more about what genes can tell us about aging and longevity. We’re working with experts in aging research from across the country, and you can join us! Start by taking our Longevity Survey, which simply asks about the ages of some of your family members. Hopefully together we can make discoveries that will help people enjoy even more healthy golden years.