Sunday, 1 September 2013

'Tanned' whales' sun response gives clues to human ageing

The way that whales react to sunlight can shed new light on the human ageing process, say researchers.

Some species react by getting darker with UV exposure in the same way as humans get a tan.

Others though, protect from themselves from sun burn by turning genes on and off.

The work, which is published in the journal Scientific Reports, could lead to new anti-ageing treatments in humans.

For several years now, marine biologists in Mexico have noticed an increasing number of whales in the region with blistered skin as a result of exposure to UV light.

The sunburnt DNA we find in whales is the same sunburnt DNA we find in humans and that is definitely linked to ageing,” Prof Mark Birch-MachinNewcastle University

Over a three-year period researchers took skin samples from three different species of whales during their annual spring migration, when they move to the sunnier waters of the Gulf of California.

Warmer Blue

The scientists found the different species reacted differently to the increase in sunlight.

Blue whales are the biggest creatures ever to have lived on Earth, and they respond to the Sun by increasing the amount of pigment in their skin, just like humans.

"When blue whales go on their holidays to the Gulf of California they get a tan the same way we do," Prof Mark Birch-Machin from Newcastle University told BBC News.

"And that tan protects blue whales from sunburnt DNA."

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