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Can protection from aging be found in a whale genome?

The secret to giving humanity a longer life and protection from age-related illnesses could be hidden within the genome of the longest living mammal.

Scientists have sequenced the complete genome of the bowhead whale, an animal that has been known to live more than 200 years and resist many of the diseases associated with old age. While comparing the creature’s genes with other mammals, the research team discovered key alterations “related to cell division, DNA repair, cancer, and aging” — a possible explanation for why the whales not only live so long, but are also resistant to cancer and other diseases in its old age.

“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,” Dr. João Pedro de Magalhães, senior author of the study published Monday in Cell Reports, said.

The genome data of the whale, the second heaviest whale after the blue whale with around 1,000 times more cells than humans, may also hold clues to explaining physiological differences between animals of different sizes. One example given was that whale cells have a lower metabolic rate compared to smaller mammals, with the explanation possibly being found in a difference within a specific gene related to body temperature regulation.

The complete genome data has been made available by the researchers for free online.

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