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The world’s oldest flamingo flew to that great big aviary in the sky last week. Greater, as it was known, was the most famous flamingo in Australia’s Adelaide Zoo when it was put to sleep at age 83.

The bird was suffering from severe arthritis and was nearly blind; zookeepers decided that putting Greater down was the most humane thing they could do.

Most of us are impressed when our pets live merely into the low double digits. But there are creatures out there that put in some serious time on Earth, especially compared with us humans. Some sea sponges last more than 1,500 years. (See also “How Old Is That Lion? A Guide to Aging Animals.”)

Herewith, six of the most famously long-lived individual animals:

1. Dynastic Clam

You may have heard of Ming, the deep-sea clam named after the Chinese dynasty during which it was born. When it died in 2006, it was believed to be the oldest living animal ever recorded.

This ocean quahog, scientifically known as Arctica islandica, lived for 507 years and came to an inglorious end.

In 2006, scientists accidentally killed the clam when they dredged it up off the coast of Iceland and froze it, along with many others, for transport back to the lab for climate change research.

There may be older specimens out there hiding in the mud, but Ming was the lucky one that won postmortem fame.

2. Great-Great-Grand Whale

bowhead whale was 130 years old when it died in 2007. Eskimos harvested the whale that year during a subsistence hunt monitored by the International Whaling Commission.

Scientists were able to estimate its age because the animal had carried a harpoon point in its neck for more than a hundred years. Experts dated the weapon to a New England factory active around 1880.

Scientists believe bowhead whales have the capacity to live about 200 years in part due to their slow metabolism—an adaptation to an icy-cold but food-rich Arctic environment.

3. Golden Oldie Fish

It might just be legend, but a koi goldfish named Hanako that passed on in 1977 was said to be the ripe old age of 226. Fish scales can be read like tree rings, which is how the estimate would have come about.

These ornamental pets are prized in Asia, and the highest-quality koi can cost thousands of dollars. Normally the fish live about 47 years.

4. Bird Named Wisdom

An albatross named Wisdom may be the oldest mom in the bird world. In 2012, at the age of 62, she hatched a new chick, possibly her 35th, and she’s still going strong in the Midway Atoll Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific.

Other avian elders include an 82-year-old Siberian white crane, captive parrots that can live into their 80s, and flamingos. Don’t forget flamingos!

5. Slow and Steady

Giant tortoises are famously long-lived: Thomas, the oldest ever known in Britain, died last year at age 130 after a rat bite on its leg got infected.

But there have been older known tortoises.

Tu’i Malila of Tonga Island passed away at 188, while Adwaita in India was at least 150—possibly as old as 250—when he died in 2006. The Galápagos tortoise Harriet, known as “Darwin’s tortoise,” survived to around age 176. She passed away in 2006 at the Australia Zoo in Queensland.

6. Immortal Jellies

Although I can’t point to an old individual named Gus or Penelope (both great handles for marine creatures, no?), it would be a shame to leave out the species Turritopsis dohrnii, a jellyfish discovered in the Mediterranean in the 1880s that never truly dies.

Instead, this jellyfish recycles itself, “aging” backward from adult stage to an immature polyp stage over and over again. Hanging out with T. dohrnii may just be the closest we humans ever come to immortality. (See more pictures of aging beasts.)

source: Nat Geo

Perhaps the answer is not to be too successful at any particular thing: Success can become an albatross for an artist, as it does for those actors who do so well in a particular role that they can never successfully take on any other.
—  Brian Eno, when asked the secret of artistic longevity
Scientists engineer worms to live the equivalent of 500 human years

In an experiment that even caught the researchers by surprise, nematode worms had their lifespans increased by — get this — five times. By tweaking two longevity-related genes, the researchers created an unexpected feedback effect that radically amplified lifespan. The technique could eventually be used to treat age-related disorders in humans.

Scientists at the Buck Institute combined mutations in two pathways known for lifespan extension — mutations that inhibit key molecules involved in insulin signaling (IIS) and the nutrient signaling pathway Target of Rapamycin (TOR). Normally, a tweak to TOR results in a 30% lifespan extension in C. Elegans worms, while mutations in IIS (Daf-2) results in a doubling of lifespan. By combining the mutations, the researchers were expecting something around a 130% extension to lifespan.

"Instead, what we have here is a synergistic five-fold increase in lifespan," noted Pankaj Kapahi in an official statement. The worms lived the equivalent of about 400 to 500 human years. “The two mutations set off a positive feedback loop in specific tissues that amplified lifespan.” These results now show that combining mutants can lead to radical lifespan extension — at least in simple organisms like the nematode worm.

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Blocking pain receptors extends lifespan, boosts metabolism in mice

Blocking a pain receptor in mice not only extends their lifespan, it also gives them a more youthful metabolism, including an improved insulin response that allows them to deal better with high blood sugar.

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"We think that blocking this pain receptor and pathway could be very, very useful not only for relieving pain, but for improving lifespan and metabolic health, and in particular for treating diabetes and obesity in humans," said Andrew Dillin, a professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley, and senior author of a new paper describing these results. "As humans age they report a higher incidence of pain, suggesting that pain might drive the aging process."

The “hot” compound in chili peppers, capsaicin, is already known to activate this pain receptor, called TRPV1 (transient receptor potential cation channel subfamily V member 1). In fact, TRPV1 is often called the capsaicin receptor. Constant activation of the receptor on a nerve cell results in death of the neuron, mimicking loss of TRPV1, which could explain why diets rich in capsaicin have been linked to a lower incidence of diabetes and metabolic problems in humans.

More relevant therapeutically, however, is an anti-migraine drug already on the market that inhibits a protein called CGRP that is triggered by TRPV1, producing an effect similar to that caused by blocking TRPV1. Dillin showed that giving this drug to older mice restored their metabolic health to that of younger mice.

"Our findings suggest that pharmacological manipulation of TRPV1 and CGRP may improve metabolic health and longevity," said Dillin, who is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and the Thomas and Stacey Siebel Distinguished Chair in Stem Cell Research. "Alternatively, chronic ingestion of compounds that affect TRPV1 might help prevent metabolic decline with age and lead to increased longevity in humans."

Dillin and his colleagues at UC Berkeley and The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., will publish their results in the May 22 issue of the journal Cell.

Pain and obesity

TRPV1 is a receptor found in the skin, nerves and joints that reacts to extremely high temperatures and other painful stimuli. The receptor is also found in nerve fibers that contact the pancreas, where it stimulates the release of substances that cause inflammation or, like CGRP (calcitonin gene-related peptide), prevent insulin release. Insulin promotes the uptake of sugar from the blood and storage in the body’s tissue, including fat.

Past research has shown that mice lacking TRPV1 are protected against diet-induced obesity, suggesting that this receptor plays a role in metabolism. Disrupting sensory perception also increases longevity in worms and flies. But until now, it was not known whether sensory perception also affects aging in mammals.

Dillin and his team have now found that mice genetically manipulated to lack TRPV1 receptors lived, on average, nearly four months – or about 14 percent – longer than normal mice. The TRPV1-deficient mice also showed signs of a youthful metabolism late in life, due to low levels of CGRP — a molecule that blocks insulin release resulting in increased blood glucose levels and thus could contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes. Throughout aging, these mice showed improved ability to quickly clear sugar from the blood as well as signs that they could burn more calories without increasing exercise levels.

Moreover, old mice treated with the anti-migraine drug, which inhibits the activity of CGRP receptors, showed a more youthful metabolic profile than untreated old mice.

UC Berkeley and The Salk Institute filed a patent May 16 on the technology described in the Cell paper. Dillin plans to continue his studies of the effects of TRPV1 and CGRP blockers on mice and, if possible, humans.

More Evidence That Longevity Depends on Your State of Mind

We all know that having goals is important, but a joint US-Canadian study reveals that having a sense of purpose can affect our longevity. Remarkably, it doesn’t matter how old we are or what we aspire to — as long as we have goals, we live longer.

Psychologists have known for some time that a sense of purpose is a key indicator of healthy aging, including its potential for reducing mortality risk. But this new study, which now appears in Psychological Science, extends previous findings in two important ways. First, it shows that a sense of purpose is beneficial across a person’s entire adult lifespan, and second, that mortality rates — and by inference health — can indeed be correlated with having a purpose in life.

Defining a Sense of Purpose

For the study, Carleton University’s Patrick Hill, along with Nicholas Turiano from the University of Rochester Medical Centre in New York, Hill analyzed the lives of more than 7,000 U.S. adults aged 20 to 75 years over a period of 14 years. They found that the people who died during the course of the study were less likely to have a feeling of purpose, suggesting that people who feel a sense of direction tend to be healthier and live longer.

Defining a sense of purpose, however, is not easy. According to Hill, having a purpose in life is a reflection of having broader, lifelong goals that serve to direct and organize a person’s day-to-day activities and the things they value. These goals can be slotted into four broad areas: creative, occupational or financial, pro-social, and family oriented.

So a sense of purpose could be derived from a desire to climb the corporate ladder, writing a book, running for office, or improving one’s performance in art or at the gym. These ambitions can also serve as stepping stones to other goals, such as financial stability and raising children. And in fact, the most frequently cited purposes had to do with helping other people or trying to improve the social structure.

To determine whether or not the participants experienced these feelings, they were asked to agree or disagree with the following three statements:

  • Some people wander aimlessly through life, but I am not one of them
  • I live life one day at a time and don’t really think about the future
  • I sometimes feel as if I’ve done all there is to do in life

It’s a limited snapshot into the psyches of the participants, but it’s what the researchers had to work with.

Health and Mortality

After the follow-up 14 years later, the researchers found that purposeful people outlived their peers, even when controlling for other factors like negative mood. Data showed that 569 participants had died (9% of the sample), many of whom reported lower purpose in life and fewer positive relations than did survivors.

Surprisingly, the added years did not depend on the person’s age, or whether or not they had retired from work; it’s commonly believed that, for the elderly, the loss of structure and routine is a risk factor. But this study would indicate that a sense of purpose is good for you across the course of your entire life.

"To show that purpose predicts longer lives for younger and older adults alike is pretty interesting, and underscores the power of the construct,” noted Hill in an Association for Psychological Review article.

A Chicken and Egg Scenario?

Of course, correlation is not causation. Having a sense of purpose isn’t what’s making people live longer. Rather, having a sense of purpose can give rise to healthy habits while diminishing a number of risk factors; setting large and long-term goals serves as a protective shield.

For example, people with clearly defined goals may be less apt to abuse alcohol and drugs, which can be seen as a distraction, escape, or a barrier to achieving one’s goals. A sense of purpose may also result in a more socially engaged life, particularly if helping people is a key motivator; studies show that social alienation is risk factor en par with excessive smoking and alcoholism.

But it needs to be pointed out that having a sense of purpose is also a kind of privilege. A wealthy or otherwise successful person may feel as if they’ve “done all there is to do in life.”

What’s more, someone with a severe disability or illness, or who is economically impoverished, may feel that they “live life one day at a time and don’t really think about the future.” This could mean that people with a sense of purpose are healthier to begin with.

As Hill points out, however, this study shows that above and beyond these things, in the long term, purpose seems to be predicting better health.

Lastly, the study did not factor in cause of death, such as a sudden death, or lifestyle habits that could lead to cardiovascular disease. Perhaps a future study can refine the work done by Hill and Turiano.

(Image caption: In Greek mythology, Clotho – the eponym for the anti-aging factor klotho – is the Fate who spins the thread of life. Here, the goddess spins the metaphorical thread of life that is DNA, influencing lifespan and cognition. Illustration by Michael Griffin Kelley)

Better Cognition Seen with Gene Variant Carried by 1 in 5 People

A scientific team led by the Gladstone Institutes and UC San Francisco has discovered that a common form of a gene already associated with long life also improves learning and memory, a finding that could have implications for treating age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s.

The researchers found that people who carry a single copy of the KL-VS variant of the KLOTHO gene perform better on a wide variety of cognitive tests. When the researchers modeled the effects in mice, they found it strengthened the connections between neurons that make learning possible – what is known as synaptic plasticity – by increasing the action of a cell receptor critical to forming memories.

The discovery is a major step toward understanding how genes improve cognitive ability and could open a new route to treating diseases like Alzheimer’s. Researchers have long suspected that some people may be protected from the disease because of their greater cognitive capacity, or reserve. Since elevated levels of the klotho protein appear to improve cognition throughout the lifespan, raising klotho levels could build cognitive reserve as a bulwark against the disease.

“As the world’s population ages, cognitive frailty is our biggest biomedical challenge,” said Dena Dubal, MD, PhD, assistant professor of neurology, the David A. Coulter Endowed Chair in Aging and Neurodegeneration at UCSF and lead author of the study, published May 8 in Cell Reports. “If we can understand how to enhance brain function, it would have a huge impact on people’s lives.”

First to Link Between Klotho Variant and Better Cognition

Klotho was discovered in 1997 and named after the Fate from Greek mythology who spins the thread of life.

The investigators found that people who carry a single copy of the KL-VS variant of the KLOTHO gene, roughly 20 percent of the population, have more klotho protein in their blood than non-carriers. Besides increasing the secretion of klotho, the KL-VS variant may also change the action of the protein and is known to lessen age-related cardiovascular disease and promote longevity.

The team’s report is the first to link the KL-VS variant, or allele, to better cognition in humans, and buttresses these findings with genetic, electrophysiological, biochemical and behavioral experiments in mice.

The researchers tested the associations between the allele and age-related human cognition in three separate studies involving more than 700 people without dementia between the ages of 52 and 85. Altogether, it took about three years to conduct the work.

“These surprising results pave a promising new avenue of research,” said Roderick Corriveau, PhD, program director at NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). “Although preliminary, they suggest klotho could be used to bump up cognition for people suffering from dementia.”

Learning Better at All Stages of Life

Having the KL-VS allele did not seem to protect people from age-related cognitive decline. But overall the effect was to boost cognition, so that the middle-aged study participants began their decline from a higher point.

“Based on what was known about klotho, we expected it to affect the brain by changing the aging process,” said senior author Lennart Mucke, MD, who directs neurological research at the Gladstone Institutes and is a professor of neurology and the Joseph B. Martin Distinguished Professor of Neuroscience at UCSF. “But this is not what we found, which suggested to us that we were on to something new and different.”

To get a closer look at how the gene variant operates, the researchers used mice that were engineered to produce more of the mouse version of klotho and found that these mice learned better at all stages of life. Put through mazes, these transgenic mice were more likely to try different routes, an indication that they had superior working memory. In a test of spatial learning and memory, the mice with extra klothoperformed twice as well.

Researchers then analyzed the mouse brain tissue and found that the mice with elevated klotho had twice as many GluN2B subunits within synaptic connections. GluN2B is part of the N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor, or NMDAR, a key receptor involved in synaptic plasticity.

The researchers found more GluN2B-containing receptors in the hippocampus and frontal cortex, brain regions that support cognitive functions. When the researchers gave the mice a drug that blocks the action of these receptors, the klotho-enhanced mice lost their cognitive advantage.

These emergency preservation medical trials (some will call it “suspended animation”) will produce interesting results.

"The researchers behind it don’t want to call it suspended animation, but it’s the most conventional way to explain it. The world’s first humans trials will start at the UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh, with 10 patients whose injuries would otherwise be fatal to operate on. A team of surgeons will remove the patient’s blood, replacing it with a chilled saline solution that would cool the body, slowing down bodily functions and delaying death from blood loss. According to Dr. Samuel Tisherman, talking to New Scientist: “We are suspending life, but we don’t like to call it suspended animation because it sounds like science fiction… we call it emergency preservation and resuscitation.” (via Endgadget)”

There are massive stacks of bad choices in my backyard.
I haven’t finished cleaning the place up, but I’m workin’ on it
and clearly I have not yet reached enlightenment
for more than a fleeting moment…
but I’m tryin’
and I found somethin’ here I want ya to have.
It’s not much…
just a story
but it’s all I’ve got.
So take it.
—  Buddy Wakefield (slam Poet) 
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