200-Year-Old Whale May Give Clues to Human Longevity?

According to U.S. News, a “200-Year-Old Whale May Give Clues to Human Longevity

Sounds like a stretch right? Well, you’re right, it is a stretch. What really happened is that researchers at the University of Liverpool recently obtained the “genome sequence” of the bowhead whale. In other words, they know the entirety of that whale’s DNA sequence.

Now, a “genome sequence” can be broken down into “gene sequences” (genes, for short), which are discrete sections of DNA sequence that are meaningful to the cells in your body. The cool thing is, scientists have developed software that can compare the genome sequences of two species and spit out which genes are (or are not) in both species, as well as how the sequences of those genes vary. So here’s where the stretching begins:

Yes, we can compare the genome sequences of whales and humans quite easily with the information produced by the scientists at the University of Liverpool. Yes, 200 years is way longer than humans have ever lived. But to say that by simply comparing our genomic sequence, we can uncover the secret to living 200 years? Well life isn’t quite that simple.

Even if we know what gene sequences are different in a whale, there’s no guarantee that these sequences are related to aging. For example the gene sequences might simply account for why we have arms and why whales have fins. Or why whales are way bigger in size. Or why whales can swim in freezing cold water. Furthermore, aging isn’t governed by one gene sequence, its governed by a whole assortment of them. Even with the amazing computing power out there these days, scientists are still struggling to come up with mathematical models linking different gene sequences to different outcomes like aging (also obesity, cancer, autism, etc.). So might a 200-year-old whale give clues to human longevity? Maybe. But to translate the genomic data from a whale to some product or therapy for use in humans will take many many years to develop.

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4 responses to “200-Year-Old Whale May Give Clues to Human Longevity?

  1. Classic example of a sensationalist headline by news outlets. They didn’t even put a question mark at the end :) But I like how you broke down what genes actually can and can’t tell us. Keep dropping those truth bombs.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t think the headline is too sensational. They did use the word “may” so technically they are right. This may lead to some new insights into aging. However, the headline still might be misleading to most of the general public who aren’t aware of the current limitations of genomics research.

    That said, I think the question they are trying to ask is: what makes bow whales live longer than other whales? The phylogenetic analyses might identify loci that give them this ability. There are several studies who have successfully done this.

    So while we still have a long way to go before we can use this knowledge in therapy (it might be worthwhile in the mean while to think about why we should pursue aging research), this is how therapy/clinical research starts. After all, would we have made all these strides in medical researching the human genome had not been published?

    Like

    • Great discussion guys. I’m with you Arslan, pursuing aging research can be both a blessing and a curse and is something that should be really thought about and debated!

      Like

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