Sequence the old, fast

1 minute read

The Archon Genomics X Prize is a $10 million contest to see what company or organization can develop a low-cost accurate sequencing technology. The AP’s Malcolm Ritter reports that the testbed sequences will be 100 centenarians (“Secrets of long life sought in DNA of the elderly”), which is a pretty interesting test cohort.

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. His own study of how centenarians live found that "as a group, they haven't done the right things."

Many in the group he studied were obese or overweight. Many were smokers, and few exercised or followed a vegetarian diet. His oldest participant, who died this month just short of her 110th birthday, smoked for 95 years.</blockquote>

"She had genes that protected her against the environment," Barzilai said. One of her sisters died at 102, and one of her brothers is 105 and still manages a hedge fund.

I doubt they’ll be able to explain much of the variance in longevity with 100 genomes, but they’ll surely find some things that make a small difference and will lead to a newsworthy outcome. Larger samples will find more of the genetic pathways that influence lifespan, as will adding a wider range of elderly samples from other populations.