Why do tor­toises live so long?

Tehran Times - - SCIENCE -

In life, Lone­some Ge­orge was ar­guably the most fa­mous tor­toise in the world for be­ing the last of his species. Now, over half a decade af­ter he died, he’s still mak­ing head­lines by help­ing ge­neti­cists un­der­stand why gi­ant tor­toises have such long life­spans.

Sci­en­tists be­lieve the life­spans of gi­ant tor­toises like Ge­orge are so long be­cause they have gene vari­ants that tweak how their DNA is re­paired and their bod­ies re­spond to in­flam­ma­tion and the devel­op­ment of can­cer.

Prior to the study, lit­tle was known about the genes of these in­ver­te­brates. An in­ter­na­tional team of re­searchers at Yale Univer­sity, the Univer­sity of Oviedo in Spain, the Gala­pa­gos Con­ser­vancy, and the Gala­pa­gos Na­tional Park Ser­vice worked to­gether on the pa­per, pub­lished in the jour­nal Na­ture Ecol­ogy & Evo­lu­tion.

The process started in 2010 when Dr. Adal­gisa Cac­cone, co-se­nior au­thor of the study and se­nior re­searcher in the De­part­ment of Ecol­ogy and Evo­lu­tion­ary Bi­ol­ogy at Yale Univer­sity, se­quenced Ge­orge’s genome.

Then, Pro­fes­sor Car­los Lopez-Otin of the Univer­sity of Oviedo, Spain, stud­ied the re­sult­ing data, and that of the Aldabra gi­ant tor­toise, and noted gene vari­ants which were linked to a long lifes­pan. The data was also com­pared to that from the P. sinen­sis, or Chi­nese soft shelled tur­tle, and hu­mans.

Lopez-Otin ex­plained: “We had pre­vi­ously de­scribed nine hall­marks of ag­ing, and af­ter study­ing 500 genes on the ba­sis of this clas­si­fi­ca­tion, we found in­ter­est­ing vari­ants po­ten­tially af­fect­ing six of those hall­marks in gi­ant tor­toises, open­ing new lines for ag­ing re­search.”

The re­search “ex­pands our un­der­stand­ing of the ge­nomic de­ter­mi­nants of ag­ing” and could help re­store gi­ant tor­toise pop­u­la­tions, the au­thors wrote.

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