DNA from Lonesome George explains the longevity of the giant tortoise

DNA from Lonesome George explains the longevity of the giant tortoise
© iStock/Serge_Vero

The DNA from Lonesome George who died in 2012 has given researchers genetic clues into the longevity of the giant tortoise.

The new study from researchers at Yale University, the University of Oviedo in Spain, the Galapagos Conservancy, and the Galapagos National Park Service investigated the DNA of Lonesome George and found the gene variants responsible for the longevity of the giant tortoise.

The authors of the study write that their research “Hints at specific evolutionary strategies linked to increased lifespan, and expands our understanding of the genomic determinants of ageing.”

Lonesome George

Lonesome George was the last of the species Chelonoidis abingdonii. He died in 2012, but his DNA is still being analysed by researchers to provide genetic evidence on the reasons for the longevity of other giant tortoises. He was roughly one hundred years old when he died.

Investigating the DNA samples

Adalgisa “Gisella” Caccone is a senior researcher in Yale’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and co-senior author of the paper. In 2010, Caccone began sequencing the whole genome of Lonesome George to study the evolution of the giant tortoise population on the Galapagos.

Carlos Lopez-Otin at the University of Oviedo in Spain analyzed this data and other species of tortoises to look for gene variants associated with longevity.

Lopez-Otin said: “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.”

Why does the giant tortoise live so long?

The giant tortoise of the Galapagos can live for more than one hundred years in captivity.

The new research found that they possessed a number of gene variants linked to DNA repair, immune response, and cancer suppression. This DNA is not possessed by shorter-lived vertebrates.

The findings have been published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

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