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John Guerin

bunch of reasons that it doesn’t seem as important now in aging as it once did.

David: Yes, I understand that, but I’m still curious. Do you know if these animals that have negligible senescence, if their cells reach a Hayflick limit? Is there a limit to how many times the cells from these animals can divide?

John: We have fourteen studies–twelve in the U.S. and two in Europe. One of the European studies is in Germany by Guido Krupp, who looked at telomerase levels in nine different rockfish. He looked at three samples from each rockfish–one of heart, liver, and brain–all the way from teenage years up to a 93 year old rockfish. All of the three tissues showed expression of telomerase, and there was no age-dependent change of expression of telomerase in the tissues. There were individual differences. Some were higher and some were lower. One of the higher levels of telomerase was found in the 93 year old, but the primary finding was that there was no trend with age.
As far as whales go, the only other person I know outside our group and Caleb Finch at USC, who actually is studying these long-lived animals is Jerry Shay at the University of Texas in Dallas. He got some samples of bowhead whales, and he’s basically doing these cell replications to see how many replications he gets out of them. Apparently, it’s pretty hard to get the samples– they had to go through the Canadian government, and it was quite an ordeal. Jerry Shay is the only one I know of who’s done bowhead whale studies, but in the ecological study I mentioned earlier four of the whales out of forty were documented to be over a hundred years old, and one of them was over two hundred years old. They reach that longevity without the assistance of doctors.  Although this was not in the paper, we know that at least one of the hundred-plus year old male whales was reproductive, because when he was harpooned he was caught in the act.

David: Wait a minute. This hundred-plus year old whale was harpooned while it was having sex?

John: Yes. When I talked to the researcher, who is an ecologist, I said, “Gerontologists want to know, how do you know that the whales weren’t about to keel over, that they weren’t on their last legs, so to speak?” And then he has an example like this. I’m like, were they reproductive? And he goes, well, one of the males sure was.

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