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DNA sequence of woman who died at 115

17th October 2011

Dutch researchers have finished making a DNA sequence of a woman known as W115, who seems not to have aged much when she eventually died at age 115.

DNA

Named Hendrikje van Andel-Schipper, she died of a stomach cancer in 2005.

At her request, morticians donated her body to medical science, and now she is the oldest person ever to have her complete genetic code read into a computer database.

The woman seemed to have something in her brain that protected her from developing Alzheimer's, and was the oldest person in the world at the time of her death.

Researchers hope the study will improve people's overall understanding of aging.

Study author Henne Holstege, of the Department of Clinical Genetics at the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, said scientists knew that the woman was special, due to the fact that, even after such a long time, her brain had absolutely no signs of dementia.

The woman's heart was also very much intact, showing no signs of atherosclerosis.

Genome sequencing technology has become cheaper and cheaper in the past 10 years, as has data storage, since scientists first began to study the human genome.

At present, the complete genomes of many organisms can be downloaded for nothing on the Internet.

However, these genomes usually only represent one example of the organism in question.

Jeffrey Barrett, of the Sanger Centre in Cambridge, who did not take part in the study, said he believed the recent Dutch study was an important proof of principle.

Sequencing the genome of the world's oldest woman was an important starting point for considering how DNA variation related to the process of having a long, healthy life, Barrett said.

But he added that scientists would need to look at the DNA sequence of hundreds or thousands of people in order to understand fully the biology underpinning a long and healthy life,

Hendrikje was born prematurely, and at first doctors did not expect her to survive.

She was treated for breast cancer about 15 years before she died, and entered a care home at the age of 105.

The complete W115 genome will be available to other researchers, who may be able to shed light on the bodies of such long-lived individuals.

The first genome sequences cost the equivalent of billions of pounds to produce in research and engineering costs.

Now it currently costs several thousand pounds to sequence an entire human genome.

George Church, a professor from Harvard University in the US, who did not take part in the current study, said he believed that there would be a 10 to 20-fold decrease in the cost of genome sequencing technology in the next few years.

He has already sequenced his own genome and uploaded it to the Internet, and hopes many people will some day do the same,

If the price of genome sequencing were to drop dramatically, it would be much easier for researchers to measure the differences between W115 and the average human being.

 

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