The genome of Lonesome George, the last Pinta tortoise who died in 2012, contains hints has to how he and other giant tortoises could live 100 years, Discover's D-brief blog reports.
Researchers led by Carlos López-Otín from Universidad de Oviedo in Spain sequenced George's genome and compared it the genome of an Aldabra giant tortoise. As they report in Nature Ecology & Evolution, the researchers found a number of genes under positive selection in both giant tortoises, including genes involved in aging and the immune system. In particular, they found that the tortoises harbored numerous copies of immune function genes like PRF1, which could in part explain how the tortoises fight off both infections and cancer.
"We had previously described nine hallmarks of aging, and after studying 500 genes on the basis of this classification, we found interesting variants potentially affecting six of those hallmarks in giant tortoises, opening new lines for aging research," Lopez-Otin says in a statement.
He and his colleague add in their paper that better understand of tortoises' development, size, and longevity could inform conservation efforts aimed at bolstering giant tortoise populations.