Researchers decided to investigate the Amish community as they live to a “remarkable” average age of 85 without the help of the outside world such as modern medicines and technology.
The scientists found certain individuals who carry a single non-functional copy of the gene SERPINE1 can live for an average of 10 years longer than other people in their community.
The Amish are a group of extremely traditional Christian church fellows who cut themselves off from the modern world. The research was carried out with the Old Order Amish of Indiana.
Dr Douglas Vaughan, a cardiovascular specialist at Northwestern University who co-authored the study, published in Science Advances, said: “They don’t take advantage of modern medicine in general, so the fact that the carriers have a median lifespan of nearly 85 is rather remarkable.”
Of the 177 people that the researchers examined, 43 carried the genetic mutation and finding a single mutation in an individual can be a gruelling task, Dr Vaughan noted.
He said: “There’s been an enormous challenge in identifying genetic predictors of a long lifespan.”
The mutation gives the individual longer telomeres – which are the caps that sit at the end of DNA strands and protect it from the wear and tear of ageing.
Dr Vaughan said that in the outside world, such as the one we live in, the chance of mutation occurs at a rate of one in 70,000, which is why the scientists were astonished to discover that the rate was little more than one in four in the Amish community.
Dr Vaughan added that analysing smaller communities might lead to more breakthroughs.
He said: “Looking at unique populations like this might be more informative than broad genetic studies in normal populations.”