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Biotechnology

A massive study of family trees finds no gene for longevity

Comparing the birth and death dates of more than 86 million people over the last several hundred years has turned up a smaller than expected role for inheritance.

So much for centenarians: People have searched for years for the genetic fountain of youth, and they have largely come up empty. The new work, published today in Science, goes some way toward explaining why: it found only that 16 percent of the variation in how long people live is due to genes. Previous estimates were around 25 percent.

So, no genetic test for life span? Some people have worried that insurers could use genetic tests to predict when you’ll die. “We show the value is pretty minute,” says Yaniv Erlich, chief scientist of genealogy company MyHeritage, who led the project.

Other fun facts: The study also found that over time we’ve married people less closely related to us. Migrations (like the colonization of the Americas) and new means of travel (railroads) help explain why we’ve become less likely to marry a distant cousin, but cultural factors have also played a role.

Deep Dive

Biotechnology

These scientists used CRISPR to put an alligator gene into catfish

The resulting fish appear to be more resistant to disease and could improve commercial production—should they ever be approved.

Next up for CRISPR: Gene editing for the masses?

Last year, Verve Therapeutics started the first human trial of a CRISPR treatment that could benefit most people—a signal that gene editing may be ready to go mainstream.

CRISPR for high cholesterol: 10 Breakthrough Technologies 2023

New forms of the gene-editing tool could enable treatments for common diseases.

An ALS patient set a record for communicating via a brain implant: 62 words per minute

Brain interfaces could let paralyzed people speak at almost normal speeds.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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