Letters to the Editor

Decoding the Secret to Aging

Editor's note: The following editorial appeared Thursday in the Chicago Tribune.

What's the secret to longevity? Frances Emily Baldwin of Great Britain said it was the daily fried egg sandwich, and she lived to be 114. Other centenarians swear by a nightly cocktail, a sense of humor, an occasional cigar. Oh, and stay away from doctors.

Gerontologists offer a sterner prescription for those who aspire to triple digits: Exercise. Eat right. Do the daily crossword. Get a dog. And for God's sake, stop driving.

Scientists say it's not all about lifestyle and environment. Extreme longevity runs in families, meaning some people are genetically predisposed to old old old age. This suggests they live longer despite their vices, not because of them. (Sorry.)

Want to know if you're one of those lucky people? A team of New England researchers has developed a model that can help predict whether a person will live into the late 90s or beyond, according to a study this month in the journal Science. The team identified 150 genetic markers that are associated with longevity. They also found 19 genetic "signatures" that could predict diseases such as dementia or hypertension. They hope to post an online test that will help people assess whether they are genetically blessed.

Which brings us to Ozzy Osbourne. The 61-year-old shock rocker has hired a private laboratory to map his genetic profile -- not to gauge his chances of living to 100 but to find out why he's not already dead. It's a fair question. Here's a guy who's famous for decades of over-the-top substance abuse, for biting the head off a live bat onstage, for lifting his dress (yes) to urinate on the Alamo while stumbling drunk. If scientists can figure out why Osbourne is still ticking, a spokesman said, they might be able to help others live longer.

"They're taking someone who's healthy, who should have disease, and looking at that," said Jon Armstrong, chief marketing officer for Cofactor Genomics in St. Louis. "What's in the DNA, and what does it have that others don't have?"

People are living longer and longer, thanks to medical advances, fried egg sandwiches and who knows what else. The U.S. Census says there are more than 80,000 centenarians living in America today; by 2050, there will be more than 800,000. If Ozzy Osbourne is one of them, then yeah, we ought to know why.