Researchers at New York-based Yeshiva University say that they have identified gene variants that enable some people to live longer.
Nir Barzilai of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, an affiliate of the university, has revealed that the variants have so far been discovered in women only.
"We are moving closer to understanding why some people live longer," says Barzilai, head of the team that identified the two gene mutations in centenarians of Ashkenazi Jewish descent.
The researcher says that both mutations decelerate the process of maturation and ageing by rendering the receptor for insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1), a driver of bodily growth and maturity, slightly faulty. Generally, the mutations leave their effects during puberty, they add.
During their study, the researchers found circulating levels of IGF1 to be 37 per cent higher in carriers of the mutation, probably to compensate for the underperforming receptor.
Carriers were also 2.5 centimetres shorter on average than the general population, they say.
"This milestone result will no doubt stimulate a worldwide search for IGF1 mutations in other centenarian populations," New Scientist magazine quoted Martin Holzenberger, a longevity researcher at Inserm in St Antoine, France, as saying.
According to the researchers, similar mutations affect longevity in worms, flies, yeast and mice.
A report describing the study has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.