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Centenarians' DNA studied for longevity

George Eberhardt turned 107 last month, and scientists would love to know how he and other older folks like him made it that far. So he's going to hand over some of his DNA. He's one of 100 centenarians taking part in a project announced yesterday that will examine some of the oldest citizens with one of the newest scientific tools: whole-genome sequencing, the deciphering of a person's complete collection of DNA.

Scientists think DNA from very old healthy people could offer clues to how they lived so long. And that could one day lead to medicines to help the rest of us be disease-free longer.

By the time you reach, say, 105, "it's very hard to get there without some genetic advantages," says Dr. Thomas Perls, a geriatrics expert at Boston University.

Perls is helping find centenarians for the Archon Genomics X Prize competition. The X Prize Foundation, best known for a spaceflight competition, is offering $10 million in prize money to researchers who decipher the complete DNA code from 100 people older than 100. The contest will be judged on accuracy, completeness and the speed and cost of sequencing.

The contest is a relaunch of an older competition with a new focus on centenarians, and it's the second sequencing project involving the elderly to be announced this month.

Eberhardt, of Chester, N.J., played and taught tennis until he was 94. But nobody else in his extended family reached 100, and he thinks only a couple reached 90, he said in a telephone interview.

So why does he think he lived so long? He credits 70 years of marriage to his wife, Marie. She in turn cites his "intense interest in so many things."

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