Rockfish Genome Study Identifies Genetic Drivers of Extreme Life Span

yelloweye rockfish
The yelloweye rockfish, Sebastes ruberrimus, dwells in deep waters along the California coast and lives upward of 140 years. Photo via UC Berkeley.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley say their study of genomes assembled from Pacific Ocean rockfish have given them new insight into the genetic determinants of aging.

At some point, though not in the near future, ways to control the mutation of certain genes could perhaps lead to increased life span of people.

Rockfish in the Pacific Ocean exhibit variation in life span from 11 years to as many as 200 years. The research project identified the genes that allow DNA repair pathways and 137 longevity-associated genes that affect life span both directly – through influencing insulin signaling and other pathways and indirectly, by affecting size and environmental adaptations.

The findings illustrate the genetic innovations that underlie the diversity of life histories among rockfishes according to the report, published Nov. 11 in the journal Science.

Researchers also determined an expansion of the immunosuppressive butyrophilin gene family in long-lived rockfish, suggesting that these species have more control over inflammaging, or increased systemic inflammation with age, which may play a significant role in modulating lifespan.

“What we have found is when butryophilin genes are mutated in humans that they can cause severe disease,” said UC Berkeley lead researcher and assistant professor of integrative biology Peter Sudmant. In future research, he said, the goal would be to identify new druggable targets in these genes, to be able to manipulate their mutation up and down in a lab setting.

DNA itself is a self-replicating material present in nearly all living organisms as the main constituent of chromosomes. It is the carrier of genetic information. The genome of an organism is the entirety of the organism’s hereditary information.

The mutation of butryophilin genes may cause susceptibility to sarcoidosis, a chronic disease characterized by enlargement of lymph nodes in many parts of the body.

The published report notes that diversity among closely related species provides a unique opportunity to study the genetic origin and evolution of extreme lifespan adaptations.

To identify the genetic drivers in these rockfish, researchers sequenced and performed a genomic analysis of 88 different long-lived and short-lived rockfish species.

The focus of Sudmant’s laboratory at UC Berkeley is to understand aging and genome structure in the context of evolution, the process of adapting and cellular diversity. The lab uses computational, statistical and experimental methods to interrogate genetic and molecular diversity at the organismal and cellular level related to interaction of its genotype with the environment.

Researchers are also interested in rockfish as an evolutionary system, and their survival in the wild, including how environmental pressures or overfishing might affect their survival.

“If we know some particular genes are associated with long-living rockfish, they might be ones to follow up on in the future in humans as disease targets,” Sudmant said. “At the core there is a lot more that rockfish can tell us about lifespan in general.”