The bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) is estimated to live over 200 years and is possibly the longest-living mammal. These animals possess protective molecular adaptations relevant to age-related diseases and particularly cancer. Sequencing and comparative analysis of the bowhead whale genome and transcriptomes from different populations already identified genes under positive selection and bowhead-specific mutations in genes linked to cancer and aging (Kaene et al. 2015).
The exact cellular, molecular, and genetic mechanisms underlying longevity and resistance to age-related diseases in bowhead whales are unknown, but it is clear that, in order to live so long, these animals must possess preventative mechanisms against cancer, immunosenescence, and neurodegenerative, cardiovascular, and metabolic diseases. In the context of cancer, whales, and bowhead whales, in particular, must possess effective antitumor mechanisms. Indeed, given their large size (in extreme cases adult bowhead whales can weigh up to 100 tons and are therefore among the largest whales) and exceptional longevity, bowhead whale cells must have a significantly lower probability of neoplastic transformation relative to humans (Caulin and Maley, 2011; de Maga˜ lhaes, 2013). Consequently, studying a species so long lived and with such an extraordinary resistance to age-related diseases as the bowhead whale will help elucidate mechanisms and genes conferring longevity and disease resistance in mammals.
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Michael Keane, Jeremy Semeiks, Andrew E. Webb, Yang I. Li1, 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, Mary J. O’Connell, John W. Bickham, Bo Thomsen, João Pedro de Magalhães, 2015 Insights into the Evolution of Longevity from the Bowhead Whale Genome, Volume 10, Issue 1, p112–122