February 5, 2009

Centenarians may have common gene

Scientists in Germany suggest 100-year-olds worldwide carry a special sequence variation of the FOXO3A gene.

The study -- published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences -- found the gene variation was more commonly present in those living to 100 and beyond, after looking at DNA samples of 388 German centenarians as well as those of 731 younger people. The researchers are also working with French researchers who report the same trend in French centenarians.

Originally, a higher frequency of this genetic variation had been reported in Americans over age 95 of Japanese ancestry.

This discovery is of particular importance as there are genetic differences between Japanese and European people, researcher Almut Nebel of Christian-Albrechts-University in Kiel, Germany, said in a statement. We can now conclude that this gene is probably important as a factor in longevity throughout the world.

The most difficult problem, says researcher Dr. Friederike Flachsbart of Kiel University's Institute of Clinical Molecular Biology, was finding enough older people -- especially over 100 -- willing to take part.

Interestingly, the genetic effects are much more evident in 100-year-olds than in 95-year-olds, Flachsbart said.