It’s hard to predict when we might die, but the hope is that it won’t happen until we’re fairly old.
But researchers don’t want to stop there. For years, scientists have been struggling to figure out what our DNA can tell us about how and why we age.
And scientists may be getting closer to figuring out how to work with specific genes to do things like help people live longer.
In a new partnership that will try to sort through some of this genetic information, the geneaology company Ancestry.com, which helps you track your family history and recently launched a personal genetics branch called AncestryDNA, will work with Google’s Calico, a biotechnology company devoted to learning how to extend the human lifespan.
Calico’s publicly stated mission is to figure out how to fight ageing, but so far, they haven’t been incredibly clear about what that means.
Their recent efforts include partnering with universities and drug companies that focus on finding cures and treatments for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). On Tuesday, they announced they’d be teaming up with Ancestry.com, which has access to more than 1 million sets of DNA.
“The Calico science team decided, what if we used a data set like what Ancestry.com has to identify people who have a longer-than-expected lifespan in their family?” Ken Chahine, the executive vice president and general manager of DNA and health, told Business Insider.
In other words, they thought, they could use Ancestry’s data to see which families tend to live longer.
Using genetics to extend life
Past research has linked specific personality traits, like conscientiousness and extroversion, to a longer life expectancy, but the research into genetics has been a bit less specific. So far, studies have suggested that some aspects of longevity run in families: People who live decades longer than the average lifespan are possibly inheriting certain genes that give them a boost against some forms of disease, while others are predisposed to get those diseases.
But the genetic markers are just one aspect of increased lifespan, with environment and lifestyle choices also likely playing big roles.
Ancestry + DNA + Health?
AncestryDNA offers $US99 DNA testing kits that give consumers a look into where their ancestors migrated from, as far back as 10 generations. The company processes the DNA you send in (via spitting in a tube) and looks for matches in its existing database.
Ancestry.com has had a big month so far: Last week, the company hit 1 million DNA samples — the same milestone genetic testing company 23andMe hit last month. About 90% of people who submit DNA samples consent to sharing their data anonymously with companies such as Calico. That’s higher than 23andMe’s rate of 80%.
It’s also announced the move to start AncestryHealth, a tool to track family health history. Instead of going back to check with your mum about what disease your great-great-uncle had, the company says the health tool would compile all that information for you in a way that’s easy to pull up.
While good news for identifying a potential fourth cousin (assuming that person is in the Ancestry.com database), it could also be helpful for health research purposes. Academics and corporations alike are especially interested in finding out how to use what we know about our genes to develop more precise drugs.
Genetically-informed drugs have already helped people with the genetic disorder cystic fibrosis, for example. Researchers have been able to pinpoint certain mutations that responded to the drug and adjust it accordingly.
This is the first time AncestryDNA has partnered with researchers, but Chahine said other deals are in the works.
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