Joao Pedro de Magalhaes and his team from the Liverpool Centre of Genomic Research studied the difference in genomic sequence between the bowhead whale and the minke whale that normally lives up to 50 years. They found two main differences in genetic structure which could prove why the bowhead whale gets that much older.
DNA repairs in whales
These two different genes impact life expectancy as they control the reparation of DNA and increase cancer protection. That’s interesting as the cellstructure of bowhead whale is far more complex than that of humans. Insight in the whales genome therefore might help to shed light on ways to prevent cancer for humans in the future.
De Magalhaes tells Spiegel about the secret of the bowhead whales. “In my view, some species have developed some tricks that get them to live longer. If we discover the tricks of the bowhead whale we can use this knowledge and apply it to humans to fight common age-related diseases.”
Small mice and huge whales
Next step will be testing mice with the bowhead whale genes to see whether this will effect their health and ability to live longer. When these tests prove succesful it remains to be seen if similar experiments will benefit humans.
The bowhead whale is the first large whale of which its genome has been fully deciphered. This discovery therefore can explain how the whale has managed to adapt to its enormous size. Cells of whales seem to have a much slower metabolism, the scientists report. They also found changes in genes that control the body temperature.