Scientists are examining the DNA of centenarians, looking for a possible genetic link to longevity. George Eberhardt, 107 years old, is one of 100 healthy centenarians taking part in a study that ultimately hopes to identify genes that prevent age-related diseases and disorders.
This study is part of the Archon Genomics X Prize competition, funded by the same company who sponsored a spaceflight competition—$10 million in prize money is at stake for researchers who decipher the complete DNA code from 100 people older than 100.
The race to decipher the human genome dates back to 1990, when the Human Genome Project was born. A few male and female DNA samples were selected for sequencing as “representatives” of the human race, and the first draft of the human genome was completed in June 2000.
All people share 99.9% of their DNA, and the 0.1% is what makes us all unique. The race continues to identify specific portions of the human genetic code—composed of 3,164.7 million chemical nucleotide bases (A, C, T and G)—that gives some people, such as centenarians, a genetic advantage compared to others.
While Eberhardt professes that his secret to longevity is 70 years of marriage to his wife Marie, a study done at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York found that as a group, centenarians vary widely in their everyday habits—many were smokers, and few exercised or followed a vegetarian diet. This suggests that there may be protective features in centenarians’ DNA that overcomes the less-than ideal lifestyles of many centenarians.
For more information on the science of DNA, visit our DNA science page.