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Clams may hold secrets to longer lives, scientists say

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Could the secret to a longer life be hidden in clams? Scientists think so.

In a new study from Italy’s University of Bologna, researchers have discovered a group of genes that allow these creatures to live for hundreds of years, many of which could play a role in the aging of our own species.

“Longevity research can aim not only to extend human lifespan, but also to increase healthy lifespan and delay the development of diseases,” said Mariangela Iannello, a researcher in the Department of Biological Sciences, geological and environmental studies of the university. News week.

“(However), until now, many studies in the field of longevity have focused on studying yeast, fruit flies and worms,” she said. “Although these species generally offer many advantages in biological research – for example, they are easy to handle and we know different aspects of their biology very well – they have a very short lifespan. Studying them to study their Longevity can be considered a paradox.”

Studies in these animals have revealed that aging is largely due to the accumulation of cellular damage over time. And much of this damage is caused by mutations in the genetic code, as well as shortening of the protective caps at the ends of our DNA. But to understand how to slow down this aging process, these short-lived animals are not the most useful models.

“An alternative approach to better understand the mechanisms responsible for extending longevity may be to study animals with particularly long lifespans,” Iannello said. “Some species have indeed evolved the ability to live longer. The traits that enable such longevity are encoded in their genome, and analysis of these traits can help identify key regulators that contribute to lifespan extension of life.”

Among these long-lived animals are bivalve molluscs, a group of soft-bodied invertebrates surrounded by a two-part hinged shell. This group includes, among others, clams, oysters, mussels and scallops.

“We know that bivalve molluscs include species with extreme longevity,” Iannello said. “The most striking example is Arctic islandica, a species of clam that can live more than 500 years. With such an extraordinary lifespan, this species is the oldest non-colonial animal known to date. Despite this, the study of bivalves in the area of ​​longevity has been neglected. »

Some species of clams can live for hundreds of years and could provide insight into the genetic secrets of longer life. One species of clam can live more than 500 years.
sudlandp/Getty

In their recent study, published in the journal Genome biology and evolutionIannello and his team examined the DNA of four species of long-lived molluscs, including Arctic islandicaand compared these genes to those present in their short-lived parents.

“Analyzing these interacting genes in their entirety is another step toward fully characterizing the complex genetic pathways underlying longevity,” Iannello said.

They found that many genetic variants found in long-lived species were involved in repairing and maintaining the animals’ DNA.

“We discovered many genes involved in repairing DNA damage and maintaining protein stability,” Iannello said.

She continues: “This is interesting because the accumulation of errors in cells, due for example to an increased number of mutations in DNA and the accumulation of damaged proteins, is one of the main characteristics of aging. The accumulation of errors can play a central role in (delaying) aging and, therefore, extending lifespan.

An additional group of interesting genes discovered by the team is involved in controlling cell proliferation, she said.

“Control of cell proliferation is a critically important process in many organisms because it prevents the proliferation of tumor cells. Interestingly, tumors are rare in long-lived bivalves and “Genes that we found could play a role in combating the appearance of tumors in these species and thus extending their lifespan,” Iannello said.

Interestingly, this is not the first time these genes have been implicated in longevity research.

“What I find most exciting is that many of the genes in this network had previously been associated with longevity in other species,” Iannello said. “This suggests that the mechanisms involved in lifespan extension are shared between animals.”

The widespread nature of these genes in long-lived animals provides useful clues about how our DNA controls our own longevity.

“We believe this is an important result because it reveals that we can take advantage of even very different species with extreme longevity to identify new genes and pathways that may play a role in regulating the lifespan of other species, including humans,” Iannello said. said.