At 200 years old, a senior bowhead whale alive today has lived through a lot - the industrial revolution, the heydey of whaling and even the sinking of the Titanic. But it wasn't until now that scientists really knew exactly why these 100-ton behemoths were living so long in comparison to other whales.
Scientists working on two different studies have finally collectively mapped the bowhead whale's genome, comparing its genes with that of a minke whale - a species that typically lives for 30 to 50 years. The findings show that the bowhead genome had unique mutations in two genes - the ERCC1 gene and the PCNA gene - linked to longevity of life as well as cancer resistance and DNA damage repair.
Conducted at the Liverpool Centre for Genomics Research, the project was done in collaboration with scientists in Alaska, Spain, South Korea, Denmark and Ireland. The genome sample was obtained from a whale that was legally killed by subsistence hunters in Greenland. (The hunters legally killed the whale for meat and gave samples to scientists for research.) It follows a paper published in October by Harvard Medical School researchers that made similar findings in the bowhead's genes.