Mutant Genes Linked to Long Life

DNA-protecting enzyme may be key to living to 100
By Jane Yager,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 16, 2009 8:43 AM CST
An image of DNA   (Shutter Stock)

(Newser) – Scientists have spotted a link among people who live to age 100: high levels of telomerase, an enzyme that protects DNA and could possibly be simulated in life-lengthening drugs. The enzyme repairs telomeres, end sections of DNA that have been likened to plastic tips that prevent shoelaces from unraveling. In a study, centenarians and their children had higher levels of telomerase and longer telomeres than the general population, the BBC reports.

Because all the participants in the study were Ashkenazi Jews, a closely related population, some experts question whether the study results apply more broadly. One scientist warned that artificially boosting telomerase could backfire by increasing the chances of cancer-causing mutations. Besides their genetic particularities, the centenarians in the study had lower body mass indexes and higher levels of good cholesterol than the control population.