Ask an elder Amish person about the secret to a long life, and they're likely to reference their traditionalist lifestyle or their devotion to a higher power. But the real secret might hide in a rare genetic quirk that emerged decades ago in a single Amish group that has the power to significant'y increase a carrier's lifespan, reports New Scientist.
The gene in question is called SERPINE1, which is known to make a protein that promotes aging, called PAI-1. But when a mutation to this gene arose six generations ago in the Old Order Amish community in Berne, Indiana, lifespans among the population began booming. In fact, carriers of the mutated gene live, on average, a whopping 10 years longer.
Because of the isolation of Amish culture, their populations can remain genetically distinct, which makes for an ideal, controlled environment for a genetic study. Douglas Vaughan of Northwestern University, Chicago, and his team were able to study the impact of a mutated SERPINE1 in 43 carriers of the gene variant within the community, and reached some remarkable conclusions.
The team not only found that individuals who carried at least one copy of the gene variant had a decade added to their lives, but the gene also appears to have made them immune to diabetes.
“The carriers appear to be completely protected from diabetes,” said Vaughan.
Notably, gene carriers had 30 percent lower levels of insulin when fasting, which is an important indicator of slower aging. Researchers also noticed that carriers had telomere chromosome caps that were 10 percent longer. Telomere length has long been associated with aging because they shorten every time a cell divides, and shorter telomeres are related to advanced aging.
The next step for researchers is to see if drugs that target PAI-1 might be developed that could extend the lifespans of the rest of us, too. In fact, there is already promising ongoing research into PAI-1 treatments for baldness.
“This study adds evidence that it will be possible to extend human lifespan and healthspan,” said Brian Kennedy, of the National University of Singapore.