Sean King

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Knoxville, Tennessee, United States

Saturday, July 3, 2010

It's in the Genes

By analyzing the DNA of the world's oldest people, Boston University scientists said Thursday they have discovered a genetic signature of longevity. They expect soon to offer a test that could let people learn whether they have the constitution to live to a very old age.

"This is an extremely complex trait that involves many processes," said lead researcher Paola Sebastiani, a biostatistician at BU's School of Public Health. Even so, "we can compute your specific predisposition to exceptional longevity."

The researchers said they had no plans to patent the technique or profit from it, because they didn't consider it precise enough for commercial use. To foster longevity research and to prevent others from commercializing the test, they plan to make a free test kit available on the Internet later this month.

UPDATE:> Greg Mankiw contemplates the significance of this development for the insurance industry by posing the following questions:

*Will insurance companies start offering better life-insurance rates to those with these markers?

*Will they require annuity purchasers to take this test and offer the long-lived worse rates?

*If insurance companies do not use these markers, perhaps because of regulation, will the availability of these tests cause the markets for life insurance and annuities to unravel because of increased adverse selection?

*In light of the above considerations, what should public policy be toward insurance companies using these tests?

*To the extent that public policy is motivated by utilitarian concerns, should there be redistribution based on the outcome of these tests?

*If so, in which direction should it go? Away from those who are long-lived and can work a long life, or toward them, as they have longer periods of old age and retirement to finance?

UPDATE 2:> Some are saying that the study was significantly flawed.

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