GLOBAL - A team of Boston University scientists says it has identified 150 genetic variants that would allow them to identify people who are predisposed to live to old age.

According to their findings, published the 1 July edition of Science magazine, testing for these genetic markers can predict extreme longevity with 77 percent accuracy.

Extreme longevity extends the time people rely on their pension, and while gradually rising life expectancy can generally be dealt with through contribution hikes, unexpected rises in life expectancy present a significant risk to pension funds.

In the Netherlands, for example, a recent spike in life expectancy shaved 4 percentage points off the average cover ratio.

The Boston University team, led by Paola Sebastiani and Thomas Perls, identified genetic aspects of longevity by analysing the genomes of 1,055 centenarians and a control group of 1,267. 

They said: "Using these data, we built a genetic model that includes 150 single-nucleotide polymorphisms and found it could predict extreme longevity with 77% accuracy in an independent set of centenarians and controls."

However, the scientists pointed out that being genetically predisposed to attain a great age did not necessarily make one any less susceptible to disease - but they said possessing a wider range of 'longevity genes' may provide additional protection.

"Further analysis revealed 90% of centenarians can be grouped into 19 clusters characterised by different genetic signatures correlated with differences in the prevalence and age of onset of age-associated diseases such as dementia, hypertension and cardiovascular disease," they said.

The 150 genetic longevity variants thus combine into 19 genetic signatures of varying predictive value.

According to the team, 40 percent of super-seniors - people 110 and older - have three genetic signatures in common.

They warned, however, that the genetic aspects of aging are but one part of a complex whole.

"The different signatures attest to the genetic complexity of extreme longevity," they said.