A whale of a life

World of Animals - - Super Seniors -

Among mam­mal-kind, no crea­ture is known to live longer than the bow­head whale. Many in­di­vid­u­als have been aged at well over 100, with one spec­i­men pos­si­bly even ex­ceed­ing 200. Like the Green­land shark, pro­teins in the eye lenses were used to de­ter­mine the age of the dou­ble cen­te­nar­ian, a method that some sci­en­tists have cast doubt over. But an­other spec­i­men that was dated based on lodged frag­ments of a 19th-cen­tury har­poon was at least 115 to 130 years old.

A study of the bow­head’s genome in­di­cated that the whale’s long life could be down to genes ded­i­cated to DnA re­pair and cell pro­lif­er­a­tion, su­per­charg­ing their im­mune sys­tems. João Pe­dro de Ma­gal­hães (see Q&A on page 37), who led the re­search, said, “We know DnA dam­age and DnA mu­ta­tion are im­por­tant for cancer. so when we find genes re­lated to DnA re­pair and DnA dam­age re­sponses, we think maybe this could be in­volved in the longevity and dis­ease re­sis­tance of the bow­head.

“in that sense, you don’t find a foun­tain of youth in the genome, but you find some promis­ing leads.”

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