Interest in mitochondrial influences on extended longevity has been mounting, as evidenced by a growing literature. Such work has demonstrated that some haplogroups are associated with increased longevity and that such associations are population specific. Most previous work, however, suffers from the methodological shortcoming that long-lived individuals are compared with “controls” who are born decades after the aged individuals. The only true controls of the elderly are people who were born in the same time period but who did not have extended longevity. Here we present results of a study in which we are able to test whether longevity is independent of haplogroup type, controlling for time period, by using mtDNA genealogies. Since mtDNA does not recombine, we know the mtDNA haplogroup of the maternal ancestors of our living participants. Thus, we can compare the haplogroup of people with and without extended longevity who were born during the same time period. Our sample is an admixed New World population that has haplogroups of Amerindian, European, and African origin. We show that women who belong to Amerindian, European, and African haplogroups do not differ in their mean longevity. Therefore, to the extent that ethnicity was tied in this population to mtDNA make-up, such ethnicity did not impact longevity. In support of previous suggestions that the link between mtDNA haplogroups and longevity is specific to the population being studied, we found an association between haplogroup C and decreased longevity. Interestingly, the lifetime reproductive success and the number of grandchildren produced via a daughter of women with haplogroup C are not reduced. Our diachronic approach to the mtDNA and longevity link allowed us to determine that the same haplogroup is associated with decreased longevity during different time periods and allowed us to compare the haplogroup of short- and long-lived individuals born during the same time period. By controlling for time period, we minimized the effect of different cultural and ecological environments on differential longevity. With our diachronic approach, we investigated the mtDNA and longevity link with a biocultural perspective.
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Vol. 86 • No. 4