Although long life tends to run in families, genetics has far less influence on life span than previously thought, according to a new analysis of an aggregated set of family trees of more than 400 million people. The results suggest that the heritability of life span is well below past estimates, which failed to account for our tendency to select partners with similar traits to our own. The research, from Calico Life Sciences and Ancestry, was published in GENETICS, a journal of the Genetics Society of America.
“We can potentially learn many things about the biology of aging from human genetics, but if the heritability of life span is low, it tempers our expectations about what types of things we can learn and how easy it will be,” says lead author Graham Ruby. “It helps contextualize the questions that scientists studying aging can effectively ask.”
Ruby’s employer, Calico Life Sciences, is a research and development company whose mission is to understand the biology of aging. They teamed up with scientists from the online genealogy resource Ancestry, led by Chief Scientific Officer Catherine Ball, to use publicly available pedigree data from Ancestry.com to estimate the heritability of human life span.