How Old Are You in Killifish Years?

You may have heard that one “human year” equals seven “dog years” because dogs age faster than humans. But did you know there’s a small multicolored fish that ages about 200 times faster than we do? The African turquoise killifish is the latest addition to the Ocean Genome Legacy biorepository, and this short-lived beauty may hold clues to why we get old and how we can manage age-related diseases.

The African turquoise killifish has a naturally short lifespan, and the samples deposited with OGL can help scientists understand why we get old. Photo credit: African Turquoise Killifish Genome Browser.

The story begins in arid east Africa, when the rains announce the beginning of a brief wet season. The water pools into small ponds, where killifish eggs have been waiting dormant through eight months of dryness. The tiny fish have only four months to hatch, grow, and reproduce before their ponds dry up, so they live life in the fast lane! A six-month-old killifish would be the equivalent of 120 years old in human terms.

Even in the laboratory, where there’s no dry season, the killifish life cycle is still extremely short—making them fascinating subjects for the study of aging. Why do we change when we get old? How do our bodies keep track of our age? Why do some animals live longer than others?

To explore the genetic instructions behind these questions, researchers in Prof. Anne Brunet’s laboratory at Stanford University sequenced the African turquoise killifish genome. They identified several aging-related genes, many of which were connected to longevity and disease in humans and other animals. Could this genetic information lead to new treatments for aging-related diseases? To preserve this important “reference” DNA, the Brunet lab donated valuable samples to OGL’s biorepository.

No matter whether you mark time in human, dog, or killifish years, this unusual genome of a short-lived fish is an important new tool to help scientists understand the mysteries of aging. You can watch the scientists explain their killifish research here, learn more about their discoveries here, and see the original scientific publication and related work.

The OGL biorepository is working with researchers from around the globe to preserve and make available these valuable DNA samples that may someday lead to new treatments for a myriad of diseases.  If you would like to support our efforts, please consider making a gift.


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