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A SHARK that lives for nearly 400 years and is the longest living vertebrate on the planet could hold the key to the fountain of youth.
A SHARK that lives for almost four centuries could hold the secret to long life, say researchers.
Greenland sharks, with a lifespan of up to 392 years, are thought to possess unique longevity genes now being searched for by scientists.
“This is the longest living vertebrate on the planet,” said Professor Kim Praebel, from the Arctic University of Norway, who is leading the hunt.
“Together with colleagues in Denmark, Greenland, USA and China, we are currently sequencing its whole nuclear genome which will help us discover why the Greenland shark not only lives longer than other shark species but other vertebrates.”
The team has taken fin clippings from almost 100 Greenland sharks, including some individuals born in the 1750s.
Already the researchers have mapped out all the 16ft shark’s mitochondrial DNA — genetic material held in tiny battery-like bodies in cells that supply energy.
Now they are working on DNA from the cell nucleus, which contains the bulk of the animal’s genes.
The “long life” genes could shed light on why most vertebrates have such a limited life span, and what determines life expectancy in different species, including humans.
Little is known about the biology and genetics of the Greenland shark, which inhabits deep water in the Atlantic Ocean from Canada to Norway and is found off the coast of Scotland.
Prof Praebel added that the sharks were “living time capsules” that could help shed light on human impact on the oceans.
Many were so old they predated the industrial revolution and the introduction of large-scale commercial fishing.
The shark’s tissues, bones and DNA could also provide clues about the effects of climate change and pollution over a long time span.
“The longest living vertebrate species on the planet has formed several populations in the Atlantic Ocean,” Prof Praebel said.
“This is important to know, so we can develop appropriate conservation actions for this important species.”
The Greenland shark is widely distributed in the north Atlantic Ocean. The Greenland shark is part of the sleeper shark family which has existed for around 110 million years.