Mark Haussmann, an assistant professor of biology, wanted to know why some animals live long, healthy lives, and others can’t seem to survive more than a few years. He studied cacti and turtles before focusing on a small, marine bird with an unusually long life span. Leach’s storm-petrels, despite their small size and high metabolism, can live to be 40 years old, defying traditional assumptions about aging.

“The beauty of comparative biology is that for almost any question you can find an ideal organism to study. If you are interested in aging, why not choose an organism that lives a very, very long time,” Haussmann said. “Storm petrels should die young but live a long life and break the conventional rules.”

Haussmann stumbled upon some groundbreaking information in his work. His studies of storm petrels have shown that DNA – specifically the protective telomeres at the tips of DNA – are associated with species that live long lives and possibly with how susceptible they are to cancer-causing tumors.

Haussmann’s work could be used as a springboard for drug companies studying cell division and cancer-treating drugs.

Related news story:  Sea birds’ DNA may hold keys to aging and cancer, researcher says

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