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On 100-year-old salamanders–and People

26 Jul

Two very interesting aging-related news items came across my desk this week. The first is a blog entry in Science on the discovery of a type of cave-dwelling salamander that lives to be 100. It’s called an olm, it’s about 15 grams, and it lives in caves throughout Europe.

Why does it live so long? Scientists are stumped. It has no natural predators, which helps, but it lacks some of the traits that other long-lived animals have. For example, it doesn’t have the naturally protective benefits of being large (like an elephant) or of having a low metabolic rate. It’s not immune to oxidative stress, which is thought to contribute to aging. The scientists plan to study the olm, in the hopes of unlocking the secrets to extreme aging.

Meanwhile a gerontologist named Robert Young, who works for Guinness World Records, has made it his job to track people who live to 100 and beyond. According to his records, the oldest living human is Eugenie Blanchard of the French territory of Saint Barthelemy. (WSJ subscription may be required to read more.)

Surprisingly, the number of centenarians has grown 32% in the past five years, while the number of “super-centenarians”–those who live to 110–has stayed flat. No one is quite sure why that is. But perhaps the salamander will someday provide clues into how the rest of us can achieve the rare milestone of 100-plus.

 
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