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Who Will Live to be 100?

A genetic test has been developed that can predict whether someone is likely to live beyond the age of 100, but scientists have warned that society is still not ready for such predictions. But if such a test is developed, will people take it? It will mean that in order to reach that projected age, they have to eat and act (such as exercise) in certain ways that many people may not want to know about.

Geneticists think they have learned the secret of longevity and that they can analyze your DNA and find out if YOU are one of the people who will live a long time. Living to 100 is rare--only one person in 6,000 in industrialized countries makes it. The news is that 90% of them are still free of disabilities by the age of 93.

Extreme longevity runs in families, but although you may have the right genes, a healthy lifestyle is also important. In the July 2nd edition of the Independent, Steve Connor quotes geneticist Thomas Perls as saying, "This prediction is not perfect, and although it may improve with better knowledge of the variations in the human genome, its limitations confirm that environmental factors, for example lifestyle, also contribute in important ways to the ability of humans to survive to very old ages."

In BBC News, Victoria Gill quotes genetic researcher Paola Sebastiani as saying, "We tested our model in an independent set of centenarians and achieved an accuracy of 77%. so out of 100 centenarians we could correctly predict the outcome of 77." The "23% error rate" indicates that, although "genetics is fundamental in exceptional longevity it's not the only thing."

Private companies will probably market the test within a few years, but the researchers worry about the ethical implications behind such testing. For instance, would the information become available to life and health insurance companies? Gill quotes geneticist Thomas Perls, as saying, "We think it's really important to understand what people end up doing with this information. That merits a lot more discussion." For instance, someone who finds out that Alzheimer's or ALS is in their future, might want to end their life before that happens.

The longer most of us live, the more finding out the truth becomes important to us. Whitley was given a big dose of truth by a mysterious little man who broke into his hotel room in Toronto and set him on the right path.

To learn more, click here and here.

Art credit: Dreamstime.com

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