Want to live to 100? Your DNA may hold your destiny
More people are living to 100 and beyond, and scientists at Boston University and Tufts Medical Center have studied DNA to discover why.
According to data collected by the United Nations, the number of people living to the age of 100 or older has doubled in the last 20 years. A new study published by Boston University and Tufts Medical Center researchers in the journal eBioMedicine may reveal why.
Wanting to understand what’s driving the trend of more people reaching age 100, the researchers analyzed the DNA and lifestyles of seven centenarians, concluding the answer is in their “elite” immune systems.
By looking at their blood cells, and specifically, their peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PMBCs) — a vast group of immune cells found in the blood — researchers found that the centenarians have “highly functional immune systems” that successfully fought off and recovered from many ailments, reports the New York Post.
“The immune profiles that we observed in the centenarians confirms a long history of exposure to infections and capacity to recover from them and provide support to the hypothesis that centenarians are enriched for protective factors that increase their ability to recover from infections,” senior author Paola Sebastiani, director of Tufts’ Center for Quantitative Methods and Data Science, explained in a statement by researchers.
Their findings further show the number of lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) in the PBMCs of centenarians decreases compared to younger people, but a significant change in composition occurs. Researchers also observed changes in myeloid cells, which originate in bone marrow.
“Centenarians, and their exceptional longevity, provide a ‘blueprint’ for how we might live more productive, healthful lives. We hope to continue to learn everything we can about resilience against disease and the extension of one’s health span,” said senior author George J. Murphy, a Boston University associate professor of medicine.
While this study flags unique qualities in the DNA makeup of those who reach the milestone age, it raises questions about how others can increase their natural odds. What also hasn’t been specifically explored is the prevalence of Black Americans living to be 100. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3.2% of Black girls and 1.1% of Black boys born in the U.S. will live to be 100, compared to 2.5% of white girls and 0.9% of white boys. The study also doesn’t explain why girls are more likely to live to 100 and beyond than boys.
All in all, Boston University reports that in 2021 there were 89,739 centenarians (age 100+) or 0.27% of the U.S. population. According to scientists, we can expect that number to grow in the coming decades.
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