By comparing the whale shark genome to that of other animals, researchers have uncovered a number of genomic features that appear to correlate with lifespan and other animal traits.
A team led by Harvard Medical School's George Church sequenced the genome of the endangered whale shark, Rhincodon typus. By then comparing its genome to those of more than 80 other animals, the researchers began to tease out patterns. As they report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week, Church and his colleagues found that gene length, particularly neural gene size, was linked to longer lifespans. Whale sharks, they report, have a genome size of 3.2 gigabases and have particularly long introns, which they traced to an increased number of repetitive elements such as CR1-like long interspersed nuclear elements. They additionally found that the length of neural genes — especially ones involved in connectivity, activity, and neurodegeneration — was linked to lifespan across the organisms they analysed.
"Our comparative genomics approach uncovered multiple genetic features associated with body size, metabolic rate, and lifespan and showed that the whale shark is a promising model for studies of neural architecture and lifespan," Church and his colleagues write.