Long-living whale may add years to humans

2015-01-07 00:00

THE genome of the bowhead whale, which can live over 200 years with little evidence of age-related disease, may provide untapped insights into healthy longevity.

Researchers led by Dr João Pedro de Magalhães of the University of Liverpool in the UK, presented the complete genome in the January issue of the journal Cell Reports.

They identified the key differences between the bowhead whale’s genome 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.

Dr Magalhães said differences between species longevity is still poorly understood, but he postulated species evolved different “tricks” to have a longer lifespan.

Discovering the “tricks” used by the bowhead may enable humans to fight age-related diseases, especially cancer. He said whales had over 1 000 times more cells than humans, but 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. 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.

The information about the bowhead’s geneome may help reveal physiological adaptations related to size.

For example, whale cells have a much lower metabolic rate than smaller mammals’, and the researchers found changes in one specific gene that may be related to metabolic differences in whale cells.

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