The bowhead whale lives over 200 years. Can its genes tell us why?

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Bowhead whale

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A whale that can live over 200 years with little evidence of age-related disease may provide untapped insights into how to live a long and healthy life. In the January 6 issue of the Cell Press journal Cell Reports, researchers present the complete bowhead whale genome and identify key differences compared to other mammals. Alterations in bowhead genes related to cell division, DNA repair, cancer, and aging may have helped increase its longevity and cancer resistance.

“Our understanding of species’ differences in longevity is very poor, and thus our findings provide novel candidate genes for future studies,” says senior author Dr. João Pedro de Magalhães, of the University of Liverpool, in the UK. “My view is that species evolved different ‘tricks’ to have a longer lifespan, and by discovering the ‘tricks’ used by the bowhead we may be able to apply those findings to humans in order to fight age-related diseases.” Also, large whales with over 1000 times more cells than humans do not seem to have an increased risk of cancer, suggesting the existence of natural mechanisms that can suppress cancer more effectively than those of other animals.

CREDIT: KATE STAFFORD/CELL REPORTS 2015

CREDIT: KATE STAFFORD/CELL REPORTS 2015

Dr. Magalhães and his team would next like to breed mice that will express various bowhead genes, with the hopes of determining the importance of different genes for longevity and resistance to diseases.

They also note that because the bowhead’s genome is the first among large whales to be sequenced, the new information may help reveal physiological adaptations related to size. For example, whale cells have a much lower metabolic rate than those of smaller mammals, and the researchers found changes in one specific gene involved in thermoregulation (UCP1) that may be related to metabolic differences in whale cells.

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This news release was posted with an early publication time

Data and results from their project are freely available to the scientific community through an online portal (http://www.bowhead-whale.org/).

Cell Reports, Keane et al.: “Insights into the evolution of longevity from the bowhead whale genome”

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Jonathon Fulkerson
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About Jonathon Fulkerson

After 15+ years as an IT professional. Jonathon decided to return to school in hopes of one day troubleshooting the most universal problem effecting all. Death, pain, and suffering by aging. As an undergraduate he is currently performing research in Dr. Richard Bennetts lab at the University of Southern Indiana, as well as volunteering for various organizations including the Buck Institute for research on Aging.

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