The Fascinating DNA of Exceptionally Long-Lived People

Could the secret to living long and healthy be tucked away in the DNA of “supercentenarians”?

These people live past the age of 110, and many are very healthy right up to the end. Their secret? Well, no one has figured it out yet, but as the New York Times recently reported, some scientists are very interested in the idea that supercentenarians may be genetically different from other people. And if they could figure out how and why, they might be able to unlock the key to healthy aging for the rest of us.

This is a very cool idea, but it’s not entirely new. Scientists have been studying centenarians for some time now, and they’ve been able to estimate that their exceptional longevity is about 25-35% genetic. They’ve even been able to pinpoint a couple of genes that may be responsible for this (one called APOE, and another called FOXO3A). But these genes only account for a small fraction of that inheritable longevity. Hence the new interest in supercentenarians. The idea is that these people might be even more remarkable than regular centenarians, so some genes will stand out more prominently as longevity targets. We’ll see…

In the meantime, as we’ve mentioned before, other people who live long and healthy are those who inhabit so-called “blue zones”—areas of the world where living past the age of 100 is fairly common. So, while we’re waiting to hear about the secrets of supercentenarian DNA, you could work on modeling your lifestyle a bit more after theirs.

(Feature image courtesy of

Tom LaRocca

Tom LaRocca, Ph.D., is a research associate and instructor in the Department of Integrative Physiology at the University of Colorado Boulder.