Test determines whether you'll age like fine wine

Geneticists develop a computer model that they say predicts with 77 percent accuracy whether you should expect to live to be 100.

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Oregon, and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
2 min read

If you're one of those people who says you don't want to live a long life because you don't want to go through the aches and pains of aging, allow me to let you in on a little secret: it appears the people who live the longest tend to avoid the aches and pains of aging--at least right until their final days.

The reason, according to a new computer model that predicts whether you are likely to reach 100, is actually pretty simple: those who live past 100 (centenarians) and especially past 110 (supercentenarians) almost all carry genetic signatures that make them far less prone to developing age-related issues such as hypertension, dementia, and cardiovascular disease.

In 2009, Oregon's oldest person, 111-year-old Delma Kollar, is kissed by her 58-year-old granddaughter Syd, also a grandmother. Elizabeth Armstrong Moore/CNET

If you want to know whether you're likely to gain admission to Club 100, first know that only one in 6,000 make it that far, and if you're a guy who still feels hopeful, sorry, but 85 percent of those are women. Also, the designers of the computer model, who this week published a paper on their work in the journal Science, warn that the test (which they have found to be 77 percent accurate) is not yet ready for commercial use.

Of course, there's no way for a test on how long you'll live to be 100 percent accurate, due to such unforeseeable potentials as fatal accidents and sudden and drastic changes in lifestyle habits. But it does indicate whether you carry the genes of the world's Extreme Elders.

"At the moment this is a statistical analysis," geneticist and lead author Paola Sebastiani of Boston University tells NPR. "A lot of work still has to be done to then understand what is the biology, what is the contribution of all these genetic markers. So this is the first step."

Sebastiani's team developed a computer model that compared 150 genetic markers in people who lived past 100 with markers of people who did not. Essentially, which group your own DNA places you in determines your shot at Club 100.

But it's only a hint, an educated guess, and genes are just one prerequisite for extreme aging. As a researcher at the New England Centenarian Study (which provided data for this study) tells me, people who live into their 100s have to hit the jackpot, with not only the right genes but the right diets (yes, smoking is especially bad), levels of physical and mental activity, and even the ability to let things slide.

In other words, you might have done everything right in life and be lucky to have the right genes, but if you're a crotchety old pessimist, you're more likely to find yourself in this test's margin of error than blowing out 100 candles.