Stories about a genetic test to see if you would live to 100 abounded in the UK press last week. Was this hype or something more? The stories arose following the publication of a paper in Science where researchers claimed to have identified regions of the genome linked to exceptional longevity.
The researchers based in Boston analysed the genomes of 1,000 centenarians from New England, and compared their results to 1,200 controls (people under 100). Current estimates suggest that only 1 in 6,000 people live to 100.
The scientists used sophisticated statistical analyses to identify 150 SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) in 19 clusters, which were associated with both longevity and the late onset of conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
The authors were cautious about the results. While they acknowledged that the work was exciting and had great potential, Dr Thomas Perls, Associate Professor of Medicine and Geriatrics at Boston University said in the Daily Mail that: ‘This would not lead to treatments that will get lots of people to become centenarians’.
The Sun reported that the Oxford ethicist Professor Julian Savelescu, who was not involved in the study, believes that: ‘it is in your interests to have this information, because it can help you plan your life’.
Both the authors and commentators, such as Professor Savelescu, acknowledge that environmental factors and accidents play as much part in longevity as our genetic makeup. However, this did not stop tabloids like The Sun from publishing headlines such as ‘Test Says if you will get to 100’.