Whale genes yield clue to 200-year life

SCIENTISTS mapping the genome for the world's longest-lived mammal, the bowhead whale, have found the longevity genes that give it a 200-year-plus lifespan — and say the discoveries might be used to extend human life.

For years, scientists have sought to understand how bowheads avoid heart disease, cancer and the myriad other illnesses that kill most large mammals before their first century.

They knew the secret lay in something other than a healthy fish diet and plenty of exercise, because bowheads vastly outlive other whale species.

Now separate studies in Britain and America have mapped the whales' genetic patterns in detail, allowing scientists to identify a small number of unique genes linked to cancer resistance, DNA damage repair and increased longevity.

Joao Pedro de Magalhaes, the lead researcher of the UK-based study, says this discovery could lead to those genes being used to help humans enjoy a longer life.

The 37-year-old researcher at Liverpool University is now seeking funding for a project that will insert the whales' genes into mice to see if that improves their resistance to disease.

If that is successful, the scientist hopes to test its effects on humans either by using drugs that activate the genes already inside the body or by incorporating the bowhead's genes into human cells and inserting them back into people.

George Arbuthnott and Jonathan Leake, The Sunday Times, Published: 4 January 2015

Last modified on Thursday, 15 January 2015 11:27
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