Improved DNA Repair May Help Bowhead Whales Live 200 Years Interview with:
Joao Pedro de Magalhaes, PhD

Institute of Integrative Biology
Biosciences Building, Room 245
University of Liverpool UK
Integrative Genomics of Ageing Group:

Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Our understanding of species differences in longevity (e.g., why can mice not live more than 5 years or dogs more than 30, yet bats can live over 40 years, humans over a century and bowheads over two centuries) is very poor and thus our findings provide novel candidate genes and mechanisms for future studies. The candidate genes we found with evidence of bowhead-specific functions may play a role in the exceptional longevity and disease resistance of these animals. In particular, we discovered changes in bowhead genes related to cell cycle, DNA repair, cancer, and aging that suggest alterations that may be biologically-relevant.  So my own view is that this points toward improved DNA repair and cell cycle regulation mechanisms to prevent DNA damage accumulation during the lifescourse which in turn promotes longevity and resistance to age-related diseases like cancer.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Response: There’s no immediate applications.  But by identifying novel maintenance and repair mechanisms 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.  Long-term we may be able to discover ways of fine tuning longevity assurance mechanisms based on findings from long-lived species like bowheads, for example by identifying longevity genes that we could then manipulate therapeutically. As such, this is a different approach in biomedical research. Most research on human diseases is usually based on animal models that develop the disease under study at a higher incidence and rate than normal. The use of disease-resistant organisms to identify genes, mechanisms and processes that protect against (rather than cause) disease is an unexplored paradigm.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Mouse studies I think would be ideal to determine if these genes emerging from the bowhead genome can protect against age-related diseases or even promote longevity.  for example, creating mice with bowhead genes and assaying for longevity and/or cancer would help elucidate the importance to longevity and disease resistance of our findings. But as you imagine these are expensive studies and at the moment we do not have the funds yet to perform this line of work.


Insights into the Evolution of Longevity from the Bowhead Whale Genome

Cell Rep 2015 Jan;10(1):112-22

Michael Keane, Jeremy Semeiks, Andrew E Webb, Yang I Li, Víctor Quesada, Thomas Craig, Lone Bruhn Madsen, Sipko van Dam, David Brawand, Patrícia I Marques, Pawel Michalak, Lin Kang, Jong Bhak, Hyung-Soon Yim, Nick V Grishin, Nynne Hjort Nielsen, Mads Peter Heide-Jørgensen, Elias M Oziolor, Cole W Matson, George M Church, Gary W Stuart, John C Patton, J Craig George, Robert Suydam, Knud Larsen, Carlos López-Otín, , John W Bickham, Bo Thomsen, João Pedro de Magalhães
Jan 2015

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