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AVAILABLE EXPERT – Cicilia Laurent and the science of longevity

Monday, February 1, 2016

Queen's University biologist Adam Chippindale is available to comment on the factors effecting human longevity. Earlier today, it was reported that Montreal resident Cicilia Laurent was being investigated by Guinness World Records as possibly being the oldest living person. Ms. Laurent, who celebrated her claimed 120th birthday recently, was born and raised in Haiti; moving to Canada in 2010.

"Genetically speaking, because of the high odds of death through conflict, predators and disease our ancestors presumably were not naturally selected to live to very advanced ages," says Dr. Chippindale. "Individuals inherit a random shake of performance-reducing genes, most of which affect us at late ages because of this evolutionary history. Extremely long-lived individuals got lucky, genetically, by inheriting a genetic makeup that made them robust enough to fend off challenges like disease through their lives and not inheriting genes that cause catastrophic breakdown with age." 

Dr. Chippindale adds that, since women live longer than men do, on average, it is not surprising that a larger proportion of extremely long-lived individuals are female.

"Cicilia Laurent is doubly remarkable for living to the age that she apparently has, and for living the first 114 years in a developing country where average life expectancy is much lower than it is here," says Dr. Chippindale. "I would guess healthy habits, gender, and a measure of luck — in genetic makeup and in life — combine to allow such extraordinary longevity."

Dr. Chippindale is a professor of Evolutionary Genetics in the Queen's University Department of Biology, with a research focus on reproductive strategies, sexual conflict and the biology of aging.

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