[Press Release] GMGI Sequences the Genome of the Long-Lived Red Sea Urchin

(GLOUCESTER, MA) The red sea urchin (Mesocentrotus franciscanus) is one of the earth’s longest-living animals, reported to live more than 100 years without showing signs of aging. To further understand the genetic underpinnings of longevity and negligible aging, researchers at GMGI have successfully sequenced its genome, providing a solid foundation for continued research that ultimately may translate to strategies for healthy aging in humans.

With their close genetic relationship to humans, sea urchins have long been used as a model for developmental biology, the study of early development. However, it was Dr. Bodnar and the team at GMGI who first utilized the red sea urchin as a model for anti-cancer and anti-aging research.

The team, including Senior Research Associate Jennifer Polinski, Postdoctoral Scientist Dr. Kate Castellano, GMGI’s Donald G. Comb Science Director Dr. Andrea Bodnar, as well as Dr. Katherine Buckley from Auburn University, recently had their research published in Cell Reports, with a paper titled “Genomic signatures of exceptional longevity and negligible aging in the long-lived red sea urchin”. The newly sequenced genome provides the ability to make important comparisons with short-lived sea urchin species, which yields insights into how the red sea urchin maintains its remarkable lifespan devoid of aging or cancer.

“The sequenced genome provides new insights into the molecular, cellular, and systemic mechanisms that promote longevity and healthy aging,” said Dr. Bodnar. “Ultimately, we hope that what we learn from sea urchins can help us live healthier, longer.”

The new study highlighted the importance of expanded families of genes associated with the innate immune system, the sensory nervous system, and genome stability, including multiple copies of several tumor suppressor genes. The results implicated known longevity mechanisms related to mitochondrial function and protein homeostasis in sea urchin longevity but also uncovered distinct molecular signatures that may promote long-term maintenance of tissue function, disease resistance, and negligible aging.

“Many genes and pathways we see in sea urchin genomes are also in the human genome. Understanding the roles they play in urchins’ biological success may help us not only understand sea urchin health but also human health,” said Jennifer Polinski, co-lead author on the paper. “For example, understanding the role tumor suppressor genes play in protecting sea urchins from cancer could ultimately lead to new strategies for treating and even preventing cancer in humans.”

Dr. Bodnar’s previous research on sea urchins has revealed how sea urchins are uniquely able to maintain nervous system integrity with age but, according to Bodnar, the genome provides a new wealth of information. It will act as an essential resource for future functional studies to test the role of particular genes or pathways in understanding the mystery of how these animals evade age-related decline. The information gained from studying animals with slow or negligible aging, like the red sea urchin, can potentially be translated into preventative or therapeutic strategies for age-related degenerative diseases in humans.


About Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute

Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute addresses critical challenges facing our oceans, human health, and the environment through innovative scientific research and education.  By bringing world-class science and transformative workforce development to Gloucester’s historic waterfront, GMGI is catalyzing the regional economy. GMGI’s Gloucester Biotechnology Academy, a 10-month certificate training program to train recent high school graduates for careers as lab technicians, recently graduated its seventh class. Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute’s state-of-the-art research institute on Gloucester Harbor opened in 2018 and is located at 417 Main Street.

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