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Genes’ impact on longevity generally slight, new research indicates

November 16, 2018

If you yearn to grow old, your genes won’t have much say in the matter, according to new research. If your parents live long lives, it doesn’t necessarily mean the same is in store for you. On the other hand, if your parents live shorter lives, there’s no great cause for worry. In fact, your parents’ life spans are largely irrelevant to yours. After looking at records of more than 400 million people, scientists recently determined that genes actually account for well under 7 percent of a person’s life span instead of the 20 to 30 percent of some previous estimates.

Analysis of birth and death rates within the records led researchers “to calculate that factors passed down from generation to generation explain 7 percent of the difference between one person’s life span and another’s,” STAT reported. These passed-down factors also consist of more than just genes.

“In addition to genes, people in the U.S. and other societies with low (and declining) economic mobility also inherit non-genetic contributions to life span such as education, income, access to health care, and other sociocultural influences,” wrote STAT.

Longevity correlates beyond biological relationships

Remarkably, spouses’ life spans correlated higher than siblings’, which might suggest environmental reasons for correlation. But there were also correlations among remote relationship types, “including aunt and uncles-in-law, first cousins-once-removed-in-law and different configurations of co-siblings-in-law,” reported the Genetics Society of America.

Researchers explained this remote, non-blood correlation phenomenon by pointing to “assortative mating” – the tendency to select mates with traits like one’s own, whether wealth or a physical attribute that may somehow be linked to longevity.

The promise of big data from biospecimens

This work is a good example of how the use of genomics and biospecimens to generate large quantities of reliable data can play a vital role in helping us understand our health and longevity. At iSpecimen, we enable access to an unrivaled collection of richly annotated human biospecimens that can ideally support large-scale genomic analyses. (This collection reflects our expansive network of global specimen providers.)

Genomic profiles that can be derived from our available biofluids, tissue and cell samples can be combined with biological data about the specimen and patient, including the patient’s age, gender, ethnicity, race, diagnoses, medications, medical procedures, tests, results, pathology reports and more. If aggregated with the same data from other patients, it’s clear to see how researchers can glean important insights into disease prevention and management as well as precision medicine.

One data point that is not included with our specimens is the patient’s identity. Our software ensures identity data is stripped from specimen and medical records on the supplier’s premises and never reaches our network. We contractually bind all researchers to never try to re-identify patients, ever.

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