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The ocean quahog is a fist-size clam that can live to be 500 years or older. Some researchers believe the sturdy quahog’s secret to a long life is its ability to protect its proteins from damage. This mechanism, if further understood, could lead to potential treatments for such age-related diseases as Alzheimer’s, which is caused by protein disturbances in the brain.
Naked mole rat
It isn’t pretty, but the naked mole rat’s elastic skin is part of why scientists believe the creature lives so long compared with other rodents—up to 30 years. The naked mole rat appears to be immune to cancer, even when exposed to carcinogens. A molecule involved in making the rat’s skin so stretchy may stop the rapid division of cells associated with cancer.
These birds can live well past their 70th birthday. The kakapo, found in New Zealand, is thought to be the longest-lived species of bird and can survive to about 90. Their secret may lie in the fact that they do everything a bit more slowly. According to Kakapo Recovery, males don’t start breeding until around age 4 and females around age 6, a reproductive pace easier on one and all.
The immortal jellyfish—also known as Turritopsis dohrnii—is the Benjamin Button of the sea. Instead of dying, the jellyfish gets younger and younger until it starts its life over once again. Its secret could be its ability to change one cell into another type of cell, something human stem cells are also capable of.
Logic suggests elephants, given their large size and long life span, should get a lot of cancer, since the more cells you have dividing for a greater amount of time, the more opportunities there are for things to go awry. But they don’t. Instead, elephants live 60 to 70 years, generally cancer-free, thanks to multiple copies of a gene that helps destroy mutated cells before they cause disease.
Like elephants, whales hardly ever get cancer. The bowhead, thought to be the longest-living mammal, is estimated to live beyond 200 years. Researchers sequenced the genome of a bowhead whale in 2015 and identified genes related to DNA repair, cancer and aging that could be responsible for the animal’s long life.
Red sea urchin
Various species of these spindly creatures, including the red urchin, are known to live 100 years or longer without any biological signs of aging. Scientists believe the key may be the urchins’ ability to regenerate their tissues. Their telomeres, a part of cells that determine how you age, don’t appear to shorten as they get older, as the ones in humans do.