The Galapagos Islands tortoise named Lonesome George was the last member of his species when he died in 2012 at an estimated age of more than 100 years. But he lives on through his genome sequence, which hints at the genetic factors underlying the extraordinary longevity of his kind.
A team led by Carlos López-Otín at the University of Oviedo in Spain and Adalgisa Caccone at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, sequenced and analysed DNA from George — who for roughly 40 years was the only known living specimen of the Pinta Giant tortoise (Chelonoidis abingdonii). The researchers also analysed the genome of another giant tortoise species, the Aldabra giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea), which is native to the Aldabra Atoll in the Indian Ocean.
The team compared George’s genome with those of other reptiles, including small-bodied and shorter-lived turtle species. Their analysis showed that the giant tortoise lineages had genetic variants linked to DNA repair, inflammation control and cancer resistance — factors that could help explain how some of Lonesome George’s luckier relatives lived for nearly two centuries.
See also: ‘The secrets of Lonesome George’