What a 200-year-old whale is teaching scientists about aging

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What a 200-Year-Old Whale Is Teaching Scientists About Aging
The Bowhead whale can live to be 200 years old or more, and now scientists are hoping clues to longevity could be found in the whale's DNA.

As the longest-lived mammal, scientists hoped sequencing the Bowhead whale's genome would shed light on how the whale's DNA is adapted to living so long.

In their findings, published Tuesday, the researchers say they were able to compare the whale's genes to that of other animals and that some genes associated with increased cancer risk in humans had been deactivated.

The scientists also created an open database with all of their findings, and encouraged other scientists to use the data however they wished, including the whale's genome.

But they made an effort to stress that this is a long, long way from any miracle cure for aging or cancer, in part because they can't actually experiment on the whales. That means they need something else to experiment on.

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What a 200-year-old whale is teaching scientists about aging
In this June 9, 2009 photo provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Bowhead whales seen in the Beaufort Sea. A federal agency is planning to evaluate the annual quota of bowhead whales that Alaska Natives can harvest for subsistence. (AP Photo/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Laura Morse)
Bowhead Whale (Balaena mysticetus) breaching. Canada Igloolik
Bowhead Whale (Balaena mysticetus) diving from the surface to feed on shrimp-like crustaceans and small fish under sea ice
Family members and friends of the Anagi whaling crew celebrate the capture of a bowhead whale after it was brought ashore in Barrow, Alaska, Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014. The celebration begins earlier in the town when a whaling captain radios to shore, "hey, hey, hey!," a sign to all of a captured whale. From there, news spreads. By the time the boats and whale make it to shore hours later, much of the town is there to greet the hunters. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 29: Cetaceans, bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus), and sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus), 1886, engraving. Germany, 19th century. Paris, Bibliothèque Des Arts Decoratifs (Library) (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)
Paleontologists Olivier Lambert and Stijn Goolaerts pose on April 2, 2013 in front of parts of the fossil of a 3,5 million year old bowhead whale at the Royal Belgian Institure of Natural Sciences - Koninklijk Belgisch Instituut voor Natuurwetenschappen (KBIN) - L'Institut royal des sciences naturelles de Belgique (IRSNB) in Brussels. Paleontologists of the IRSNB discovered the remains of two whales in Vrasene, near Beveren. The animals were living at a period when Belglium was still covered by waters. AFP PHOTO / BELGA - JONAS ROOSENS (Photo credit should read JONAS ROOSENS/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 01: Eskimo villagers help drag a killed whale onto the ice, Near Barrow, Alaska (Photo by Emory Kristof/National Geographic/Getty Images)
Bowhead whale Balaena mysticetus adult swims through an open lead in the pack ice during spring migration Chukchi Sea
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Dr. Joao Pedro Magalhes told RT, "The obvious next step would be to take some of the genes from the bowhead whale, put them in mice, and then actually see if the mice would live longer and be disease resistant, which would really be the proof that we now need."

The scientists' interest might be academic, but as CBS points out the research's backers have one clear goal in mind - finding a "magic potion" to stop aging.

The research was funded largely by the Methuselah Foundation, a non-profit that supports anti-aging research and the Life Extension Foundation, a dietary supplement vendor.

Still, it will take years of experimentation before scientists can pinpoint the causes for the whale's longevity, and as the lead researcher on the project told CBS, there won't be any bowhead whale supplements on the shelves anytime soon.

This video includes an image from fruchtzwerg's world / CC BY NC ND 2.0.

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