Boston Globe (July 2, 2010): Born to Age Gracefully

Publication Date: 
Fri, 07/02/2010

Five months shy of his 100th birthday, Louis Charpentier still rises every day at 9 a.m. to spend hours in his basement shop in suburban Leominster, carving delicate wooden figurines. Years after most people’s bodies and minds have failed, Charpentier climbs stairs with ease and recalls everything from the latest episode of “Dr. Phil’’ to the first train he ever saw, carrying soldiers who fought in World War I.

For years, scientists have been fascinated by biological outliers such as Charpentier as they seek to unlock the secrets of longevity.

Now, a team of scientists from Boston University has discovered a way to predict with 77 percent accuracy whether someone is likely to live to be exceptionally old.

Using cutting-edge genomics techniques on a group of 1,055 people born near the turn of the last century, researchers have identified a genetic signature of longevity. In work published online yesterday by the journal Science, they reported that 150 spots in the genome are associated with extremely long life.

“Exceptional longevity is not this vacuous entity that no one can figure out. I think we’ve made quite some inroads here in terms of demonstrating a pretty important genetic component to this wonderful trait,’’ said Dr. Thomas Perls, the senior author of the paper and the director of the New England Centenarian Study at Boston Medical Center.