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Bivalve mollusks may hold the secrets of longevity

Bivalve mollusks, often overlooked in aging research, may hold clues to longevity, according to a new study led by researchers from the University of Bologna.

The study has revealed a network of genes that evolve differently in long-lived and short-lived bivalves, many of which are associated with longevity in other animals. 

Focus of the study

The team explored the long lifespans of bivalve mollusks, including clams, mussels, oysters, and scallops.

Remarkably, these creatures have lifespans ranging from a single year to over 500 years, offering a unique window into the secrets of longevity.

Cellular damage

Historically, research on aging and longevity has primarily focused on humans and certain model animals, examining the accumulation of cellular damage over time. 

Cellular damage manifests at the genomic level as mutations in nucleic acids, changes in nuclear architecture, and telomere shortening. At the proteomic level, cellular damage is associated with the loss of proteases and errors affecting protein folding. These types of damage have been the primary culprits in aging. 

Exceptional longevity 

“It always fascinated me that some bivalve species live extremely long lives,” said co-first author Mariangela Iannello.

“When I realized that nobody had ever investigated this exceptional longevity within a molecular evolution framework, I knew that we had to start studying longevity in these animals.”

Molecular framework for longevity

The researchers used transcriptomic resources from 33 bivalve species, focusing on four with exceptionally long lifespans: Arctica islandica, Margaritifera margaritifera, Elliptio complanata, and Lampsilis siliquoidea. 

The team discovered that genes related to DNA damage response, cell death regulation, responses to abiotic stimuli, and hypoxia tolerance showed convergent patterns of evolution in long-lived species. 

These findings suggest that there is a shared molecular framework for longevity across various animal lineages.

Longevity genes

“What I find the most exciting is that many genes in this network had been previously associated with longevity in other species,” said Iannello.

“An important implication of this finding is that an extension of lifespan may involve common genetic factors in very distantly related species.”

Exciting possibilities 

The study not only highlights known longevity genes but also uncovers new candidates – particularly those involved in proteostasis. This indicates a link between efficient handling of damaged or misfolded proteins and extended lifespans. 

“We believe that these genes are new and exciting candidates to be tested for a role in increasing lifespan, not only in bivalves, but also in other species,” said Iannello.

Advancing aging research 

The researchers plan to expand their investigations to explore longevity in more species.

Despite the challenges posed by the complexity of longevity, the increasing availability of genomics data promises new opportunities to study previously unconsidered species, potentially revolutionizing aging research.

“The results obtained in this work made us thrilled to explore longevity in more species. In particular, we would like to investigate if the evolutionary signals in genes with a potential role in longevity are somehow shared across long-lived species from different taxonomic groups,” said Iannello.

“A complex and multifactorial process such as longevity is definitely challenging to analyze, requiring deep manipulation of big data and multiple complementary, integrative approaches.”

“On the other hand, the increasing availability of omics data will allow us to explore species that have never been considered in this context before, and that would greatly help advance aging research.”

Learning from the natural world

In a related study from Genome Biology and Evolution, researchers at University College Dublin analyzed genes associated with human longevity across various placental mammals, finding a correlation between longer lifespans and the duplication of longevity genes. 

While some may question the relevance of findings across such diverse species, Iannello emphasized the broader significance.

“Science has a long history of research focused on the most disparate taxa that has profoundly impacted our understanding of human biology,” said Iannello. “I think that, particularly in the aging field, we have a lot to learn from the natural world around us.”

The study is published in the journal Genome Biology and Evolution.

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