Date
17 December 2017
Bowhead whales have an anti-tumor response at the cell level that is far more efficient than what is found in humans, scientists say. Photo: Internet
Bowhead whales have an anti-tumor response at the cell level that is far more efficient than what is found in humans, scientists say. Photo: Internet

Longevity: Decoding the secret

What’s the secret to long life?

Scientists are trying to unlock the mystery by studying the genetic blueprint for the bowhead whale, the awe-inspiring giant of the Arctic that lives up to 200 years.

They have completed the genome sequencing of the 60-foot (18-meter) seagoing mammal, Reuters reports, and this may yield some answers to the question of why some species are less prone to the ravages of diseases than others.

Compared with other mammals, the whale has genes that are quite different in terms of DNA repair, cell cycle and the aging process.

“This is the biggest animal whose genome has been sequenced thus far and the first big whale to be sequenced,” says University of Liverpool geneticist João Pedro de Magalhães, who led the study published in the scientific journal Cell Reports.

“By identifying novel maintenance and repair mechanisms, we hope to learn what is the secret for living longer, healthier lives and may be able apply this knowledge to improve human health and preserve human life,” Magalhães added.

Bowhead whales are among the heaviest creatures on the planet, next only to the blue whale. Adults weigh between 50 and 100 tons. They have 1,000 times as many cells as humans.  

“But they apparently have an anti-tumor response at the cell level that is far more efficient than what is found in humans,” says biologist Mads Peter Heide-Jørgensen of the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources and the University of Copenhagen.

Magalhães explains that whale cells must have a much lower metabolic rate than those of smaller mammals.

Also, the bowhead whale genome is slightly smaller than that of humans and other mammals.

“Generally speaking, more complex species tend to have larger genomes with more genes, but I don’t think within mammals there is a correlation between body size and genome size,” says Magalhães.

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