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A team of researchers is studying the DNA of a Pinta Island tortoise [TAWR-tuh s] / ˈtoɚtəs / to determine the animal’s secrets to longevity.
The Pinta Island tortoise, called Lonesome George, died in 2012 at the age of 101. He was the last of his kind in the world because his species became extinct. Despite the extinction of his species, researchers from Yale University were able to collect samples of his DNA two years before he passed away in a conservation center in the Galápagos Islands.
Now, the researchers are using those DNA samples to determine what attributes help the species live for more than a century. The researchers think that those attributes might hold the key to discovering how humans can age in a healthier way.
While cancer is a disease that greatly harms humans, especially when they grow older, the researchers observed that it is a rarity among the Pinta Island tortoises. This phenomenon raised questions because larger species with long life expectancy like tortoises are more susceptible to developing cancer. To explain the phenomenon, the researchers compared Lonesome George’s DNA with that of other tortoises and animals.
Based on the researchers’ examination, Lonesome George’s DNA had produced and duplicated genes that can prevent the growth of cancerous tumors. The researchers also discovered genes that can stave off bacteria, viruses, and parasites.
Aside from finding the secrets to Lonesome George’s longevity, the researchers also want to study how tortoises developed gigantism, or the unusual largeness of the body. The team is also interested to learn how the species and other reptiles can regrow body parts and, hopefully, apply such knowledge in possible treatment of injuries in humans.