In an effort to better understand aging and the secrets to a long life, scientists have sequenced the DNA of a woman who lived to be 115 years old, making her the oldest person to have her DNA mapped, reports the BBC.
Scientists are beginning to pinpoint what made the woman's genetics so exceptional. They hope that with further study, the research could help everyone live a healthier, longer life.
By most measures, the woman (whose identity is being kept private) was extraordinary. Not only did she show no signs of dementia or Alzheimer's despite her advanced age, but she also had no furring of the arteries, a typical sign of heart disease in the elderly. Dr. Henne Holstege of the Department of Clinical Genetics at VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, said the woman appeared to have some rare genetic differences in her DNA.
"There must be something in her body that is protective against dementia," said Holstege. "We think that there are genes that may ensure a long life and be protective against Alzheimer's."
Ironically, the woman was born premature, and she was not expected to survive. Of course she did survive, and she was largely devoid of health problems until the age of 100, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Amazingly, she beat the breast cancer and lived 15 more vibrant years, until finally succumbing to a stomach tumor at 115. Only 1 in 50,000 people who live to 100 make it to 115, making her long life especially rare.
At the age of 113, she performed a mental test at the level of a woman aged 60-75 years old. She agreed to have her body donated to science upon her death, so that doctors could study her brain, organs and genetic code.
Though the results of her gene sequence have yet to be published, they were recently presented at the American Society of Human Genetics annual meeting in Montreal, Canada. Researchers will soon release her gene sequence so that is can become available to other researchers.
It's an important first step. Eventually, scientists hope to map the DNA of other centenarians so that they can be compared to this woman's.
"In order to really understand the underlying biology of living a long, healthy life, we will need to look at the DNA sequence of hundreds or thousands of people," noted Dr. Jeffrey Barrett of the Sanger Centre in Cambridge, U.K.