Scientists Discover Genetic Clues Behind the Longevity of World's Oldest Woman

First Posted: Apr 24, 2014 12:03 PM EDT

For Hendrikje van Andel-Schipper, the oldest woman who ever lived, she swore by two life secrets: A daily serving of herring and a glass of OJ.   

Yet scientists have discovered so much more behind her remarkably healthy life and crystal-clear cognition. When van Andel-Schipper died in 2005, she dedicated her body to science. An in-depth analysis of her blood and other tissues revealed that our own lifespans may be limited by our stem cells.

For van Andel-Schipper in particular, the New Scientist notes that two stem cells were primarily responsible for around two-thirds of the white blood cells in her body at death, which had most likely originated at the start of her life.

"Is there a limit to the number of stem cell divisions, and does that imply that there's a limit to human life?" said Henne Holstege of the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, who headed the research team, via the New Scientist. "Or can you get round that by replenishment with cells saved from earlier in your life?"

When discussing the idea of a "fountain of youth," scientists try to comprehend the question if understanding the cause of death ultimately means we could one day control it?

"If I took a sample now and gave it back to myself when I'm older, I would have long telomeres again-although it might only be possible with blood, not other tissue," Henne added, via the New Scientist.

Despite the lingering theoretical question, scientists hope this information could potentially explain why some are more susceptible to various neurodegenerative diseases at younger ages, according to Medical Daily.

Secrets into van Andel-Schipper's blood also showed that she carried certain defenses against cancer in which specific cell mutations aborted themselves in defense.

What might an analysis of your stem cells show? 

More information regarding the findings can be seen via the journal Genome Research

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