The research, by Germany's Kiel University, compared the genetic make-up of 388 Germans over 100 years old with 731 younger people and found that a variant of the gene FOXO3A occurred very frequently in the older group.
This confirms the findings of an earlier US study in September 2008 in which scientists examined the genes of 3,741 Japanese men over 95 and came to the same conclusion. It also shows that the gene is present in females.
"This discovery is of particular importance because Japanese and Europeans are relatively different genetically. Now we can assume that this gene plays a role worldwide in living longer," said Professor Almut Nebel, head of the research group.
FOXO3A has been of interest in longevity research since it was discovered in flies and worms in the 1990s, the study said. But researchers had a trouble finding subjects old enough to take part in the study, they said.
The study was published online by the US magazine, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."