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Bowhead Whales May Hold the Secret to Living for 200 Years

The mythical fountain of youth might have been in the ocean all along.

Scientists believe the bowhead whale, which can live to be up to 200 years old, could help humans to extend their own lifespan.

The bowhead whale is the longest living mammal on Earth, and is remarkably free of most diseases, including cancer. Scientists say the secret to the whale’s longevity could lie in its genes, according to a recent study of its DNA sequence.

The study, out of the University of Liverpool in the UK, found the whale’s genome contained mutations involved in aging, cell maintenance and DNA repair, which could be linked to their long lifespans. By examining the whale’s evolutionary advantage at keeping death and disease at bay, scientists hope to further the fight against age-related diseases and develop new drug therapies.

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Humans’ struggle to delay the Grim Reaper is nothing new, but scientists are uncovering new information about aging daily. They now know that not everyone ages at the same rate, with the less fortunate having cells that deteriorate more quickly. But they are perplexed why an animal like the bowhead whale wouldn’t develop cancer, when it has thousands of times more cells than a human.

The genome project may shed light on that mystery. The results suggest that bowhead whale’s genes are more adept at repairing damage, possibly due to their ability to go without oxygen on long dives. The authors of the study hope to next create mice with bowhead whale genes, and measure if their adapted DNA helps protect them against aging and disease.

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This groundbreaking study might have never been possible because of humans themselves. For hundreds of years, the bowhead whale was relentlessly hunted for its blubber, meat, oil and bones. By the early 20th Century, bowhead numbers had plummeted to about 3,000.

Had they been wiped out at that time, genetic material might not be available today. However, Victorian-era harpoons found in modern whales were also some of the first clues to their gift for aging gracefully.

Due to a 1996 moratorium on bowhead whale hunting, their numbers have since recovered.

Good news for both the whales and the humans that might someday rely on them to live longer and healthier lives.

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Bowhead Whales May Hold the Secret to Living for 200 Years