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

Jan 8, 2015

Credit: Loke Film and Adam Schmedes/Cell Reports 2015

By Science Daily

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.

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6 comments on “The bowhead whale lives over 200 years: Can its genes tell us why?

  • 2
    Lorenzo says:

    “I tried to put my grandma in the fridge, but she died neverthless very soon…”
    Sorry for the cheap humor, couldn’t help myself 😀

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  • 3
    Lorenzo says:

    OP: My view is that species evolved different ‘tricks’ to have a longer lifespan

    Well… that’s not really how it works, is it? If a species lives long is because that long life is at least related to something that gives an advantage in reproduction.
    In the most general picture, a very long lived species found itself in that condition because a particular combination of genes is quite succesful at perpetuating itself and happens to build long lived individuals. And it’s not, I think, a sharp transition: you have that slightly longer lived individuals are consistently more successful than others for a sizeable period of time. Or don’t you?
    I’m not sure that bowheads ever wanted to live long and one day decided “let’s evolve a trick for that”…

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  • @-OP link – 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.

    Telomeres are clearly involved in the number of times DNA strands can be accurately copied, with metabolic rates looking like another regulating factor in ageing.

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  • Lorenzo The suspicious death of your grandmother will require an investigation by the “Cold Case” division of the Police Department. Sounds like a promising pilot for a police procedural series!

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  • Is it just me or does this creature bear an uncanny resemblance to a Taco?

    Slow metabolism has proven a crucial factor in other long-lived animals. I’m reminded of the tortoise that Charles Darwin saw on his voyage that wound up in a zoo in Australia and only passed away (as we Americans say) recently. Amen. Faster metabolism in our own species may have led to the expression “burn out.”

    Bowhead whale guys and gals must not get together very often pursuant to the command to be fruitful and multiply. Human populations endowed with bowhead life expectancy would soar from a stable base of 10 billion at mid-century or 2100, even with replacement fertility, into catastrophic numbers because of inter-generational survival. Mortality at age 50 is only around 6% in developed countries. Extrapolating, – 94% of world population would still be alive at age 100. If each woman had on average 2.1 children, the 10 billion would grow to between 20 and 30 billion before stabilizing. Slight rates of population growth would add hundreds of billions then trillions over centuries.

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