This Rare Shark’s Genes May Hold The Secret To Living A Much Longer Life

Published July 6, 2017
Published July 6, 2017

Scientists are mapping out the genetic code of the shark species with a 400-year life span.

Greenland Shark 2

NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program / Wikimedia

Greenland Sharks are one of the rarest sharks on the planet, but it’s the fact that they are the longest living vertebrate on the planet that has made them an object of extended scientific fascination.

In order to learn more about these elusive, seemingly death-defying creatures, a group of scientists from England embarked on a perilous journey to the northern seas of Greenland to study them in their natural habitat.

There, the researchers observed nearly 100 sharks and collected genetic samples for lab study at the Arctic University in Norway, where a team of researchers from around the world has since attempted to map out the shark’s genetic code.

“Together with colleagues in Denmark, Greenland, USA and China, we are currently sequencing its whole nuclear genome which will help us discover why the Greenland shark not only lives longer than other shark species but other vertebrates,” Professor Kim Praebel, from the Arctic University of Norway, said.

The scientists say they have already mapped out some of the sharks’ mitochondrial DNA, and will proceed to study the DNA from the cell nucleus, which holds a majority of the sharks’ genes.

Greenland Sharks, also known as gurry sharks or grey sharks, first piqued scientists’ interest when they learned of the creatures’ immense lifespans. The sharks live up to to 400 years, compared to other shark species in similar habitats which live up to 30 years. It’s not just that they’re “old” for a really long time, either: the sharks don’t reach sexual maturity — the point in which they can mate and give birth — until 150 years of age.

The researchers hope that delving into the genetic code of the sharks will grant insight into what allows them to do so — insights which could potentially be applied to extend the lifespans of humans.

Next, read about what killed off the giant shark of the past, the megalodon. Then, watch a video of a man catching a shark with his bare hands.

Gabe Paoletti
Gabe is a New York City-based writer and an Editorial Intern at All That Is Interesting.