At age 106, Dennis Morris of Marietta is part of a select group of the world's population known as semi-supercentenarians-or those between the ages of 105 and 109.
Now he's famous for another reason.
In a Sept. 21 Wall Street Journal article titled "Contestants Race to Map DNA of 100 Centenarians" Morris talked about his participation in a competition called the Archon Genomics X PRIZE.
SHARON BOPP The Marietta Times
Dennis Morris, 106, of Marietta, has donated his DNA for an international competition that will have teams working to sequence the genomes of 100 centenarians and semi-supercentenarians (those ages 105 to 109).
"I thought it was a big deal and a very nice article," said his daughter Nancy Luthy, 70, of Marietta.
Morris, who agreed to have his DNA used for the competition that will be held in 2013, hopes to help scientists find out why folks like him have such longevity.
"(Researchers) are trying to get some kind of lead on what makes some people live longer than others," said Morris.
About the research
Name: Archon Genomics X PRIZE presented by Express Scripts.
What: World-class competing teams will sequence the genomes of 100 centenarians. A genome is an organism's complete set of DNA, including all its genes. Those who live to be 100 years represent a unique population whose genetic makeup may have contributed to their longevity.
Prize: $10 million given to the first team to successfully sequence the whole genome of 100 subjects within 30 days at a maximum cost of $1,000 per genome, at an error rate no greater than 1 per million base pairs.
When: Sept. 5 to Oct. 4, 2013.
Goal: Designed to usher in a new era of personalized medicine, advancing genomic sequencing and challenging scientists to design rapid, inexpensive and accurate whole genome sequencing technologies.
Source: genomics.xprize.org, U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Morris' family members have had mixed longevity. His father died at age 79, his mother lived to the age of 98, his brother passed at age 69 and his sister lived to be 96.
"I married a home economics teacher who made sure I ate the proper food," Morris laughingly said.
Peas, carrots and leafy green substances were not Morris' favorite food, he admitted.
Luthy was in agreement.
"He doesn't like veggies," Luthy said.
Neither did Morris like the yogurt and wheat germ he starting eating daily in his middle 40s. But he ate it, after reading that was what a group of long-living Russians ate and believed contributed to their longevity.
"I did it with a purpose," said Morris. "If it's good for them, it's good for me."
Morris also attributes his semi-supercentenarian status to regular exercise. He ran two miles a day with his late wife, Sara, until age 70 and golfed until age 105.
The Morris' were married for 68 years and have three daughters.
Most of Morris' life has been spent in good health. His tonsils have been removed, he had a plastic tube put in his left ear to improve his hearing when he was in his 40s, and doctors used a balloon and put a stint in his heart after he retired from teaching at age 70.
"I have been very fortunate," said Morris. "I enjoyed my life up until this last year."
Nowadays he has to use a walker because his balance is unsteady and he spends most days in his apartment at the Glenwood Retirement Community.
In addition to his participation in the Archon Genomics X PRIZE competition Morris also began taking part in Boston University's "Genetics of Longevity Study" in February.
"(Study participants) know people are living a lot longer," Morris said.
"We're hopeful that they will find a treatment or lead that will make it easier for medical professionals to give relief to people that have a disease and maybe find a cure," said Morris.
The competition and study could also allow the elderly to have improved health.
"It's not to extend life, it's to extend the healthy part of their lives," Luthy said.
In addition to giving blood for the DNA needed for the competition, Morris filled out paperwork about his eating, exercise, smoking and drinking habits and more, and took two memory tests over the telephone.
Morris continues to live his version of a healthy life despite some physical limitations.
Pointing to his Kindle reader on a nearby side table, Morris spoke proudly about the weekly newsletter he creates on his computer. The newsletter goes out to 49 family members and friends.
"He knows how to cut and paste and everything," Luthy said.
The goal of the Archon Genomics X PRIZE competition is to usher in a new era of personalized medicine and advance the field of genomic sequencing.
A genome is an organism's complete set of DNA, including all its genes, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Each genome contains all the information needed to build and maintain that organism.
In humans, a copy of the entire genome-more than 3 billion DNA base pairs-is contained in all cells that have a nucleus.
To read the Wall Street Journal article, go to online.wsj.com and type 'Dennis Morris' in the search box in the upper right hand corner.