Our genes harbor many secrets to a long and healthy life. And now scientists are beginning to uncover them.
On a crisp January morning, with snow topping the distant Aspromonte mountains and oranges ripening on the nearby trees, Giuseppe Passarino guided his silver minivan up a curving mountain road into the hinterlands of Calabria, mainland Italy’s southernmost region. As the road climbed through fruit and olive groves, Passarino, a geneticist at the University of Calabria, chatted with his colleague Maurizio Berardelli, a geriatrician. They were headed for the small village of Molochio, which had the distinction of numbering four centenarians—and four 99-year-olds—among its 2,000 inhabitants.
Soon after, they found Salvatore Caruso warming his 106-year-old bones in front of a roaring fire in his home on the outskirts of the town. Known in local dialect as “U’ Raggiuneri,” the Accountant, Caruso was calmly reading an article about the end of the world in an Italian version of a supermarket tabloid. A framed copy of his birth record, dated November 2, 1905, stood on the fireplace mantle.
Caruso told the researchers he was in good health, and his memory seemed prodigiously intact. He recalled the death of his father in 1913, when Salvatore was a schoolboy; how his mother and brother had nearly died during the great influenza pandemic of 1918-19; how he’d been dismissed from his army unit in 1925 after accidentally falling and breaking his leg in two places. When Berardelli leaned forward and asked Caruso how he had achieved his remarkable longevity, the centenarian said with an impish smile, “No Bacco, no tabacco, no Venere—No drinking, no smoking, no women.” He added that he’d eaten mostly figs and beans while growing up and hardly ever any red meat.
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