In a search for genes that fight off aging, researchers have now charted the bowhead whale genome.
Bowheads are filter feeders found only in the Arctic, and are some of the largest mammals on Earth. Old harpoon points found in bowheads suggest the whales live for some 200 years.
The scientists’ search turned up several interesting genetic targets worthy of further study, said senior study author Joao Pedro de Magalhaes, a biologist and expert in aging science at the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom. The results will be reported Tuesday, Jan. 6, in the journal Cell.
For instance, the researchers found that bowhead whales have unique mutations in a gene called ERCC1, which is involved in repairing damaged DNA. The mutations in this gene could provide protection against cancer, Magalhaes said. About 30 percent of people will develop some form of cancer during their lives, but whales seem to have a remarkably low cancer rate, despite their huge number of cells and long life span.
But not all genetic changes in whales are cancer related. The researchers also found that a gene called PCNA contains a section of DNA that has been duplicated. The gene is associated with cell growth and DNA repair, and the duplication could slow aging, Magalhaes said.

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