George Eberhardt turned 107 last month, and scientists would love to know how he and other older folks like him made it that far. So he's going to hand over some of his DNA. He's one of 100 centenarians taking part in a project announced Wednesday that will examine some of the oldest citizens with one of the newest scientific tools: Whole-genome sequencing, the deciphering of a person's complete collection of DNA.
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 heard 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 competion. The X Prize Foundation, best known for a spaceflight competition, is offering $10 million in prize moeny 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.
Genome pioneer J. Craig Venter says the centenarian project is just a first-step in revealing the genetic secrets of a long and healthy life.