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Sequencing Supercentenarians

Citizen-scientist James Clement has been crisscrossing the world and scouring birthday announcements to collect DNA samples from long-lived people, the New York Times reports.

In particular, he has been focusing on people who have lived to the age of 106 years and beyond and has teamed up with Harvard Medical School's George Church to sequence his samples, the Times says. Clement's set of three dozen genomes is to become available to researchers this week through the nonprofit organization Betterhumans, it adds.

By analyzing the DNA of people who've lived so long, Clement hopes that researchers will be able to tease out any genetic variations that contributed to their long life, according to the Times. Previous studies have suggested that supercentenarians tend to harbor fewer of the gene variants linked to increased risk of heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, and others, but no one variant linked to longevity.

Additionally, with such a small sample size — there are only about a thousand people thought to be supercentenarians — uncovering key variations may be difficult, the Times notes. Still, Church says that "[t]he farther out you go on the bell curve, the more likely you are to find something, even with a small sample size."