Genetics, lifestyle and longevity: Lessons from centenarians

Diddahally Govindaraju, Gil Atzmon, Nir Barzilai

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Longevity as a complex life-history trait shares an ontogenetic relationship with other quantitative traits and varies among individuals, families and populations. Heritability estimates of longevity suggest that about a third of the phenotypic variation associated with the trait is attributable to genetic factors, and the rest is influenced by epigenetic and environmental factors. Individuals react differently to the environments that they are a part of, as well as to the environments they construct for their survival and reproduction; the latter phenomenon is known as niche construction. Lifestyle influences longevity at all the stages of development and levels of human diversity. Hence, lifestyle may be viewed as a component of niche construction. Here, we: a) interpret longevity using a combination of genotype-epigenetic-phenotype (GEP) map approach and niche-construction theory, and b) discuss the plausible influence of genetic and epigenetic factors in the distribution and maintenance of longevity among individuals with normal life span on the one hand, and centenarians on the other. Although similar genetic and environmental factors appear to be common to both of these groups, exceptional longevity may be influenced by polymorphisms in specific genes, coupled with superior genomic stability and homeostatic mechanisms, maintained by negative frequency-dependent selection. We suggest that a comparative analysis of longevity between individuals with normal life span and centenarians, along with insights from population ecology and evolutionary biology, would not only advance our knowledge of biological mechanisms underlying human longevity, but also provide deeper insights into extending healthy life span.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)23-32
Number of pages10
JournalApplied and Translational Genomics
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2015


  • Composite trait
  • Genomic stability
  • Genotype-phenotype (G-P) map
  • Negative frequency-dependent selection
  • Niche construction
  • Reaction norms

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Molecular Biology
  • Biotechnology
  • Pharmaceutical Science


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