Apr 19, 2019 | Updated: 09:46 AM EDT

Evading Death—How The Bowhead Whale Is Able To live Up To Two Centuries

Jan 10, 2015 08:21 PM EST

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Bowhead whale skeleton
(Photo : Derbyshire Harrier/Flickr)

Toted for their longevity, bowhead whales are the longest living―and, quite frankly, one of the largest―mammals known to science. And, with a lifespan often exceeding 200 years, it's a longevity record no other mammal can touch. But scientist have been baffled as to how their able to live-out their two-century lives without any age related aliments. In a new study published in the journal Cell Report, researchers suggest that the rapid DNA repair done by the whale's trillions of cells is the key component to their astonishing longevity.

Bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) are only found in the frigid water Artic waters of our world's Northern most seas. It's in these seas that the whales live out their lives, breeding and feeding on their physically ironic food source; one of the world's largest animals feeds on one of the ocean's smallest multicellular organisms, krill.

The cellular biologist found that the whale's genetic makeup is fine-tuned at expressing certain traits that help negate numerous age related illnesses, such as the formation of cancer cells and skeletal breakdown. The whale's cells seem to have, through the patience of evolution, discovered a biological fountain of youth.

Those same biologists found that the PCNA, a gene that's been associated with cellular anti-ageing, is duplicated when it's translated in cellular mitosis. By multiplying the PCNA gene's expression rate, it allows those cells to better repair themselves, in lieu of what other oxidizing and stress related factors that might be present.

Joao Pedro de Magalhaes, a gerontologist at the University of Liverpool, hopes that the research to follow suit will aid how we handle human-related illnesses as well.

"We hope to learn what is the secret for living longer, healthier lives and may be able apply this knowledge to improve human health and preserve human life," Magalhaes says.

Bowhead whales are under continual threat from the whaling industry and climate change. The cool, oxygen-rich Artic waters allow the krill to continually flourish and reproduce, therefore providing the whale's a consistent and steady food source. Warmer waters will likely threaten the well-being of the endemic krill, and likewise the health of the bowhead whales in the future.

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