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Longevity Briefs: Do Genes Really Matter For Longevity?

Posted on 10 June 2022

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Longevity briefs provides a short summary of novel research in biology, medicine, or biotechnology that caught the attention of our researchers in Oxford, due to its potential to improve our health, wellbeing, and longevity.

Why is this research important: It’s clear that genetics can play an important role in determining how long we live. Inherited genetic conditions can significantly shorten life expectancy, while certain gene variants can predispose to, or protect against, the development of deadly diseases. But how much do gene variants really matter for the majority of people?

What did the researchers do: In this paper, researchers review the evidence concerning the importance of genetics when it comes to longevity.

Key takeaway(s) from this research: Studying the lifespans of the offspring of centenarians has allowed scientists to estimate that about 25% of the variation in human longevity is due to genetic factors. Furthermore, genetic factors play a lesser role than environmental factors when it comes to surviving the first 8 decades of life, but play a progressively more important role in health and longevity thereafter. It also appears that genetics play a more important role in men than in women.

The development of large genetic databases has caused some researchers to doubt whether gene variants are as important as estimated, and even to question whether they matter at all for most people. When scientists have searched for gene variants linked to longevity, only a handful of genes have been found to have a moderate effect within the population. The most significant of these are the APOE gene (which affects cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s risk) and the FOXO3A gene (involved in suppressing cancer). However, most gene variants associated with longevity have only very small effects, which subsequent studies often fail to confirm. This suggests that treatments mimicking the effects of these variants won’t lead to any major health or lifespan extension.

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