Scholars have long wondered what enables some people to live to very old ages while others do not. Research has shown that a number of inherited genetic variants are linked to overall and longer lifespan. A recent study published in Aging, co-authored by CDHA Director Pamela Herd (public affairs; sociology), indicated that the number of these genetic markers associated with longevity has tripled from earlier estimates.
Using data from 389,166 individuals of European descent from the UK Biobank, which follows the health and well-being of a half million participants, researchers undertook a genome-wide association study (GWAS) of parental longevity. In the search for genetic markers that influenced the lifespans of Biobank participants’ parents, the research team, led by Luke Pilling (University of Exeter Medical School), identified 25 genes that are linked to longevity, up from the previously known 8.
Confirmed against data in the U.S. Health and Retirement Study and the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, the findings suggest that human longevity is a polygenic trait, or inheritable by two or more genes. The research team also tested for parental gender differences by conducting a separate GWAS for attained ages of mothers and fathers. The results indicated that there might be gender differences in routes to longevity, with autoimmune variants being particularly important for women. The new links to longevity may be useful for identifying targeted prevention and precision treatments for extending human lifespans.