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, biologists say.
In the Jan. 6 issue of the research journal Cell Reports, scientists present the bowhead whale’s complete genome and identify what they say are key differences with other mammals.
Changes in bowhead genes related to cell division, DNA repair, cancer, and aging may have helped increase its longevity and cancer resistance, according to the researchers.
“Our understanding of species’ differences in longevity is very poor, and thus our findings provide novel candidate genes for future studies,” said the study’s senior author, João Pedro de Magalhães of the University of Liverpool in the UK.
“My view is that species evolved different ‘tricks’ to have a longer lifespan, and by discovering the ‘tricks’ used by the bowhead we may be able to apply those findings to humans in order to fight age-related diseases.”
Also, he added, large whales with over 1,000 times more cells than humans don’t seem to have higher cancer risk, suggesting the whales have natural mechanisms that help suppress cancer.
Magalhães and his team plan to breed mice with various bowhead genes in hopes of determining the importance of different genes for longevity and resistance to diseases. They also note that because the bowhead’s genome is the first among large whales to be decoded, the new information may help reveal physiological adaptations related to large size.