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Long Life Runs in Families

Genealogists know long life tends to run in some families. However, no one has ever been able to provide a satisfactory explanation to this phenomenon. Scientists have now finally come up with a reason why some families have a disproportionate number of centenarians (people who live to be at least one hundred years old). Essentially, scientists have discovered a variation in one particular gene that is much more prevalent in centenarians than the general population. This variation in the so-called ‘longevity’ gene clearly runs in some families, which would imply that it is an inherited trait.

The gene, known as FOXO3A, has been on the radar screens of scientists for several years. Studies on worms and fruit flies in the 1990s identified the gene as being connected to the aging process. The first study using humans concluded in September 2008 and demonstrated that the gene was a factor in the long lives of very old Americans of Japanese origin. However, at the time, it was not clear whether it was just the gene itself that was causing the longevity, or if other factors in the genetic profile of people of Japanese ancestry were also contributing to their long life.

Now, an independent study at the University of Kiel in Germany has shown the same variation in the same gene is also a factor in long-lived Germans proving the phenomena is not just associated with Japanese ancestry. This provides the first conclusive proof that people who carry a particular variation of the FOXO3A gene have the potential prospect of living a long life.

One thing of interest to genealogists is the challenge researchers have in performing longevity research on very old people. Researchers simply cannot get enough elderly people to participate in such studies. Perhaps this would be something worth considering for genealogists who happen to be fortunate enough to come from a family of centenarians.

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