Longevity is heritable, but that primarily applies to persons from families where multiple members are among the top 10 percent survivors of their birth cohort. The key to a long life can probably be found in the genes of these families. These are the conclusions of researchers at Leiden University Medical Center, together with their colleagues from Nijmegen and the United States, in an article in Nature Communications.
The researchers reached their conclusions after studying the genealogies of 314,819 people from 20,360 families dating back to 1740. The research data were obtained from two large datasets, one at the University of Utah in the U.S. and one in the Dutch province of Zeeland. Authors of the study include Niels van den Berg, doctoral student studying molecular epidemiology, and Eline Slagboom, professor of molecular epidemiology, both at Leiden University in the Netherlands, and University of Utah professor Ken Smith, director of the Utah Population Database.
“We observed . . . the more long-lived relatives you have, the lower your hazard of dying at any point in life,” said van den Berg, lead author. “For example, someone whose parents are both ‘top survivors’ has a 31 percent lower hazard of dying than someone of the same age without such parents.
“Moreover, that person’s hazard of dying is reduced, even if the parents themselves did not live to be extremely old but, aunts and uncles were among the top survivors,” van den Berg said. “In long-lived families, parents can therefore pass on longevity genes to their children, even if external factors prohibited them from reaching the top survivors.”