From “Propensity for Longer Life Span Inherited Non-Genetically Over Generations, Study Shows” (ScienceDaily, Oct. 20, 2011), we learn:
Blocking or modifying the expression of any of three key proteins in a laboratory roundworm increases the life span of not only the original animal, but also that animal’s descendents, the researchers found. This occurs even though the original modification is no longer present in the descendants. The finding is the first to show that longevity can be inherited in a non-genetic manner over several generations.
It’s tempting to translate the findings to humans, who share similar proteins with those studied in the worms in this work. While much more investigation is needed, the research at least hints at the possibility that modifications that occurred in your great-grandparents, perhaps as a result of diet or other environmental conditions, will affect your own life span.
Which raises a serious question: The transition to urban living aided longevity by creating easier living conditions and more rapid access to emergency care. But unhealthful lifestyles could eat into those gains – and pass on the reductions to the next generations.
See also: Anomaly: Human mortality hits a plateau after 105 years of age
Is aging a disease or does it serve an evolutionary purpose?
Study: Religiously affiliated people lived “9.45 and 5.64 years longer…”