Ageless Animals, Clam Edition

It wasn't so long that we were talking about the uncertain longevity of lobsters, but for today it's the turn of the humble clam:

A British scientific team discovered the 405-year-old clam, named after the Chinese dynasty and not the former Liberal Democrat leader, at the bottom of the ocean, and hope its longevity will reveal the secrets of ageing.

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The record-breaking shellfish, 31 years older than the previous oldest animal, another clam, was caught last year when scientists from the Bangor University School of Ocean Sciences were dredging the seabed north of Iceland.

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Richard Faragher, a gerontologist at Brighton University working with the Bangor team, said: "Most of what we know about the ocean quahog is what it tastes like. We need to find out how it retains muscle strength, remains cancer-free and keeps its nervous system intact over such a long period of time."

As for the lobster (and the bowhead whale, for that matter) this is a good illustration of the limits of present knowledge, for all that the biotechnology revolution is well underway. There are a great many trees in this forest.

Another potentially useful consequence of scientific examination of species of extreme longevity is an increase in public understanding of the range of life spans in the animal world. As scientists demonstrate specific biochemical reasons for differences in longevity between species, that work helps to generate support for medical engineering research aimed at increasing the healthy life span of our own species.

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