A group of U.S. scientists are hoping to answer that question! If you ask George Eberhardt of Chester, New Jersey who turned 107 recently, he’d tell you he couldn’t have made to 100 without his beautiful wife Marie, to whom he has been married for 70 years. Marie would attribute it to George’s intense interest in many things over many years. But a group of U.S scientists believe there’s more to it. They believe the answer to healthy aging lies in human DNA, and they want to use human genome sequencing to investigate. So George, along with up to 100 other centenarians, is handing over a sample of his DNA as part of the Archon Genomics X Prize Competition.
The X Prize Foundation, best known for a spaceflight competition, is offering $10 million in prize money to researchers who decipher the complete DNA code from 100 people older than 100. The contest will be judged on accuracy, completeness and the speed and cost of sequencing.
Genome pioneer J. Craig Venter says the centenarian project is just a first step in revealing the genetic secrets of living a long life. “We need 10,000, not 100 to start to understand the link between genetics, disease and wellness,” says Venter, who is co-chairing the X Prize contest.
Another participating scientist, Dr. Richard Cawthorn of the University of Utah says the research might turn up genetic features that protect against diseases or that slow the process of aging overall.
“Protective features of a centenarian’s DNA can even overcome less-than-ideal lifestyles,” says Dr. Nir Barzilai of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. Many of the people in the group he has studied were overweight, obese and smokers. His oldest subject, who lived to be 110, had smoked for 95 years. “She had genes that protected her against the environment,” says Dr. Barzilai.
Ultimately, scientists are hoping to uncover the genetic secrets behind certain individuals’ uncommon longevity, and then use the information to develop ways of preventing degenerative diseases in average individuals.