The Amish Are Living 10 Years Longer Because Of A Mutant Gene
The Amish are living 10 years longer on average, and it’s not necessarily because of their lifestyle. Members of this community who have a single non-functional copy of the gene SERPINE1, live a decade longer, on average, than those who don’t. The study was performed on the Old Order Amish of Indiana – which is a group of people that generally avoid the luxuries that modern life has to offer. Things like electricity, cars or medicine, among other things.
“They don’t take advantage of modern medicine in general, so the fact that the carriers have a median lifespan of nearly 85 is rather remarkable,” said Dr Douglas Vaughan, a cardiovascular specialist at Northwestern University who co-authored the study, published in Science Advances.
Of the 177 Amish people tested, 43 of them carried this particular mutation. Ageing is a particularly difficult biological process to understand, and finding a mutation that has such a dramatic effect on it is unusual, to say the least.
“There’s been an enormous challenge in identifying genetic predictors of a long lifespan,” said Dr Vaughan.
Ageing, as most of us know, doesn’t come alone. It comes alongside a wide variety of symptoms, such as an increased chance of diabetes, or cardiovascular problems. This mutation, however, seems to offer some protection against these.
“We’re talking about something that appears to have an effect at molecular levels, at hormonal levels, at tissue levels, and plays out with people having a longer lifespan,” said Dr Vaughan.
The main way this particular mutation presents itself is by lengthening the telomeres – caps at the end of DNA strands that protect the chromosomes. The shortening of these telomeres has been linked to ageing – which explains how the Amish who carry it have longer lifespans. There’s somewhat of a catch, though. If there are two copies of this non-functional gene, however, the effect is reversed. In this case, people suffer from excessive bleeding immediately following an injury.
To be fair, this particular mutation isn’t only found among the Amish. In the general population, an average individual has a one in 70,000 chance of having it. But the fact that the Amish live in enclosed communities, isolated from the rest of the world, they tend to be more interrelated – which explains why the SERPINE1 mutation is more common among them.
When studying genetics and understanding its complexity, Dr Vaughan says that these insular communities are an excellent frame of reference. “Looking at unique populations like this might be more informative than broad genetic studies in normal populations,” he said.