Could science hold the key to putting off the rainbow bridge a little longer?

By Meghan Overdeep
May 12, 2020
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“People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life—like loving everybody all the time and being nice," a six-year-old boy explained in a viral story from 2017. “Dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay for as long as we do.”

But what if science holds the key to another decade of life for our pups? What if we could get them to stay longer?

A recent paper published in Frontiers in Genetics examined the genome of two dogs who lived naturally to extremely old ages, Kedves, a 22-year-old female, and, Buksi, a 27-year-old male. These so-called “Methuselah dogs,” the canine equivalent of the human centenarian, enjoyed a 50% longer lifespan than the average pup.

“If we better understand the mechanisms of aging in dogs, we can promote a healthier lifestyle for dogs,” Dávid Jónás, a research fellow at the Department of Ethology at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, and study author told Today. “If pet dogs live longer and healthier, it could have a positive impact not only on the dogs themselves, but on the mental health of their owners as well.”

Researchers sequenced the DNA of two dogs looking for genes they share that might explain their extended lifespan. And they think they found them.

“We identified genes that are probably linked to extreme longevity in dogs,” Jónás said.

These findings helped them develop a hypothesis for further research with a larger sample size of elderly dogs: “A crucial genetic requirement of extreme longevity lies within the fine-tuning (i.e. the superior calibration) of gene expression,” he noted.

As Carlos Alvarez, a principal investigator at the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, told Today, people currently breed dogs to attain a certain look, which often impacts a pup’s overall health. But this new understanding about aging might change how people think about dogs.

“We selected very strongly for appearance traits and by doing that we made dogs more susceptible for diseases,” Alvarez explained. “By doing genetic studies, we can start to think about what we did and select now for health.”

Now wouldn’t that be great?