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As one of the exceedingly rare members of her species to live beyond age 110, Goldie Michelson had divulged her secrets to longevity countless times before dying last year at 113.

“Morning walks and chocolate,” the Gloucester, Mass., resident and onetime oldest living American told the steady stream of inquisitors that marked her final years.

Unlike the growing ranks of nonagenarians and centenarians, those who breach a 12th decade, known as supercentenarians, rarely face protracted illness or disability before they die, a boon that many of them have ascribed to personal habits.

“I try to live the truth,” said Shelby Harris, who threw out the first pitch of the local minor league baseball team’s 2012 season a few months before he died at 111 in Rock Island, Ill. Emma Morano of Verbania, Italy, still cooking her own pasta until a few years before she died last April at 117, prescribed raw eggs, and no husband.

But even as they indulged the notion that exceptionally healthy longevity can be explained by lifestyle, each agreed to donate DNA to a private effort to find the secrets in supercentenarian genes.

The full genetic sequences of Ms. Michelson, Mr. Harris and Ms. Morano are among some three dozen genomes of North American, Caribbean and European supercentenarians being made available this week by a nonprofit called Betterhumans to any researcher who wants to dive in.

A few additional genomes come from people who died at 107, 108 or 109. If unusual patterns in their three billion pairs of A’s, C’s, G’s and T’s — the nucleobases that make up all genomes — can be shown to have prolonged their lives and protected their health, the logic goes, it is conceivable that a drug or gene therapy could be devised to replicate the effects in the rest of us.

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Category: Science