Why do some people live to 100? The answer could be in our guts

Is this the secret to living to 100? Scientists identify a specific mix of bacteria and viruses that could help us live longer

  • Researchers studied the intestinal bacteria and viruses in 176 centenarians
  • They found a unique mix of both, which better protects against disease
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Humans may have finally discovered the secret to a long life, which is hiding in our guts.

Scientists from the University of Copenhagen studied 176 healthy Japanese centenarians – a rare population who reach 100 years or more – and found they all had a mix of bacteria and viruses in their gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

The study showed that specific viruses in the intestines can benefit the microbiome in the gut and, therefore, our health.

While it is impossible to change people’s genetic predispositions, the researchers speculate they could change someone’s intestinal biome to include the unique mix.

Scientists from the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research at the University of Copenhagen studied 176 healthy Japanese centenarians — people who have reached 100 years old — and used an algorithm to map their intestinal bacteria and bacterial viruses

Joachim Johansen, author of the study, said: ‘We are always eager to find out why some people live extremely long lives. 

‘Previous research has shown that the intestinal bacteria of old Japanese citizens produce brand new molecules that make them resistant to pathogenic — that is, disease-promoting — microorganisms. 

‘And if their intestines are better protected against infection, well, then that is probably one of the things that cause them to live longer than others.’

The team developed an algorithm to map the centenarians’ intestinal bacteria and bacterial viruses.

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These results were then compared to a group of adults between the ages of 18 and 60. 

Mr Johansen said the team found ‘great biological diversity in both bacteria and bacterial viruses’ in the centenarians. 

He said: ‘High microbial diversity is usually associated with a healthy gut microbiome. And we expect people with a healthy gut microbiome to be better protected against aging-related diseases.’

He added that the information could be used to increase the life expectancy of other people by engineering the microbiome to the optimal balance of viruses and bacteria to protect against disease.

Mr Johansen said: ‘We have learned that if a virus pays a bacterium a visit, it may actually strengthen the bacterium. 

‘The viruses we found in the healthy Japanese centenarians contained extra genes that could boost the bacteria. 

‘We learned that they were able to boost the transformation of specific molecules in the intestines, which might serve to stabilize the intestinal flora and counteract inflammation.’

For example, the study paper said the centenarians displayed a greater metabolic output of microbial hydrogen sulfide, which may ‘support mucosal integrity and resistance to pathobionts’.

Mucosal integrity alludes to the GI tract’s resilience—the digestive system pathway leading from the mouth to the anus. 

Pathobionts are pathogens that originate within the gut.

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