With an average lifespan of 71 years, humans are some of the longest living creatures on earth. However, a few animals have us beat. Some turtles can live for over 100 years, some fish can live for over 200 years, some clams can live for over 500 years, and some jellyfish are said to be immortal. But the longest living mammal, whose genes may be able to help us live longer and avoid cancer, is the bowhead whale. They can live for over 200 years.
Last week, scientists from the University of Liverpool sequenced the bowhead whale’s genome. Their study, funded by the Life Extension Foundation and the Methuselah Foundation, is hoping to figure out how these whales can live for so long and apply their genetic strategies to humans.
One of the factors in the bowhead whale’s longevity is their resistance to cancer. These whales are huge and have thousands more cells than us, so one would guess they would also have more instances of cancer. But this isn’t the case. Joao Pedro de Magalhaes, one of the corresponding authors on the study, believes this is because bowhead whales are better at repairing DNA damage, thus preventing cancer and extending life.
But figuring out what genes cause this, and applying them to humans, may prove difficult. Magalhaes also helped sequence the genome of the naked mole rat, another long living species. Though it too is good at repairing DNA damage, the “specific genes involved seem to be different.”
Nonetheless, Magalhaes is pushing ahead. His next goal is to splice bowhead whale genes into mice to see if it benefits them.