A massive new international study has more than tripled the number of genetic variants associated with a longer lifespan. The study, which looked at genetic correlations among people with long-living parents, found distinct new genetic characteristics connected to lifespan, while also unexpectedly revealing potential gender-specific genetic pathways to a longer life.

There are, of course, a huge variety of factors that determine how long a person lives. Environment and lifestyle play major roles in affecting a person's lifespan, but genetic heritability is also relevant. Studies of twins have estimated the role of genetics to be between 20 and 30 percent in determining a person's lifespan.

Prior studies into what specific genetic variants could be associated with longer lifespans have unsurprisingly identified a link to genes associated with heart disease and dementia. This new study took a novel approach and concentrated on finding genetic associations in those subjects with a family history of longer lifespans.

The study incorporated a massive dataset of 389,166 subjects, and not only confirmed the association of eight previously identified genetic variants that have been linked to lifespan, but also revealed 17 new variants, bringing the total number to 25.

"We have identified new pathways that contribute to survival, as well as confirming others," says study author Luke Pilling. "These targets offer potentially modifiable targets to reduce risk of an earlier death and improve health."

The new genetic variants discovered by the study play a variety of roles, including affecting auto-immune disease and high blood pressure. But perhaps the most interesting discovery related to possible gender-specific longevity genes. Three novel genetic variants were associated with longer living mothers in the study, while eight novel variants were associated with fathers. This unexpected gender-specific revelation is certainly an area deserving of more study and suggests there is potential for the development of different lifespan-extending gene therapy treatments for men and women.

The study quite rightly concludes that human lifespan is most certainly a polygenetic trait, with no single magic aging gene existing to help extend a person's life. This doesn't mean the search for genes connected to lifespan is a vain one though, but rather this body of accumulating data will help further the quest for gene therapies that can improve our quality of life well into our senior years.

The study was published in the journal Aging.