This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Long Life Means Choosing Your Parents Carefully

Prescriptions for a long life abound, but few have as much scientific backing as the idea that your genetic background makes a huge difference. But exactly what and how? That's what new studies reported by the Associated Press are trying to figure out.

Scientists think DNA from very old healthy people could offer clues to how they lived so long. And that could one day lead to medicines to help the rest of us stay disease-free longer.
By the time you reach, say, 105, "it's very hard to get there without some genetic advantages," says Dr. Thomas Perls, a geriatrics expert at Boston University.
Perls is helping find centenarians for the Archon Genomics X Prize competition. The X Prize Foundation, best known for a spaceflight competition, is offering $10 million in prize money to researchers who decipher the complete DNA code from 100 people older than 100. The contest will be judged on accuracy, completeness and the speed and cost of sequencing.
The contest is a relaunch of an older competition with a new focus on centenarians, and it's the second sequencing project involving the elderly to be announced this month.
The second project is in San Diego:
Earlier this month, Scripps Health of San Diego announced a different genome project involving the elderly. The Scripps Wellderly Study will receive the complete genomes of 1,000 people age 80 and older from a sequencing company.
A complete genome reveals not only genes but also other DNA that's responsible for regulating genes. It's "the full monty," showing DNA elements that are key for illness and health, says Dr. Eric Topol, who heads the Wellderly Study.
Participants in that study have an average age of 87 and range up to 108, and they've never had diabetes, heart disease or cancer, or any neurological disease.
"Why are these people Teflon-coated?" Topol asked. "Why don't they get disease?"
The ability to turn out lots of complete genomes is "the new-new thing" in trying to find out, he said.
"There's been too much emphasis on disorders per se and not enough on the people who are exceptionally healthy," to learn from their genomes, Topol said. "Now we have the powerful tools to do that."
There are no promises, obviously, that we will learn the secrets of aging from these studies, but they almost certainly will move us forward a bit.

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