Researchers from the Newcastle University, UK revealed in the month of August 2013 that the way whales reacted to sunlight explained about the ageing process of humans. Some of the whale species reacted to the sunlight by getting darker in UV exposure, a process which is similar to the way humans tan. Other whales have the capability of protecting themselves from getting tanned by turning their genes on and off.
The research can help in the creation of new anti-ageing treatments in humans. For various years, the marine biologists in Mexico had noticed that a large number of whales in that region had skin which was sun-burnt because of exposure to UV light.
For conducting the research, the researchers took the skin samples from three diverse species of the whales. This was done over three years time period. The samples were collected during the annual spring migration when they had migrated to the sunnier waters of Gulf of California.
Research on the Blue Whales
The researchers found that the different species of whales reacted in a different way to the increase in sunlight. Blue Whales are biggest creatures that have lived on the Earth. They react to the Sun by enhancing quantity of pigment in the skin, in the same way like humans do. Therefore, the blue whales get tanned in a same way like the human beings do. It is this tan that gives them protection from the sun-burnt DNA.
Prof Mark Birch-Machin from Newcastle University explained that after being exposed to the ultra-violet rays of the Sun, not just the skin, but also the DNA in mitochondria can be damaged. The blue whales’ ability to tan when exposed to UV rays, might be connected to the historic migratory patterns because every year they move from high latitudes to lower ones that have higher amount of sunlight.
Research on the Sperm Whales
In yet another kind of species, the Sperm Whales, there is an altogether different kind of behaviour towards the Sun. The sperm whales have the ability to spend around six hours at a stretch on the ocean’s surface and have much higher exposure to the UV light. The sperm whales can thus be compared with the people who go for lobster approach. Therefore, the changes in their pigment do not help them a lot because the UV light becomes overpowering in the system.
Instead of the alterations to the pigment, the Sun can lead to stress response in genes of the sperm whales, which is again like the protective mechanism of humans against the sun damage. It is for the first time that the evidences of genotoxic pathways being activated in whales’ cells have been seen. It is absolutely similar to the damage response which is caused because of free radicals in human skin.
Research on the Fin Whales
The third kind of species is the Fin Whales on which research was conducted. The deeply pigmented animals were more resistant to the sun damage. They had lower prevalence of the sunburn lesions.
Conclusion of the research
The researchers, after conducting study on these three kinds of whale species explained that this could be helpful in finding the changes in genes as well as pigment. The whales can thus shed light on the process of ageing in the human beings.
The sun-burnt DNA in the whales was the same kind of sun-burnt DNA which was found in the humans and this was linked to the process of ageing. The study depicted the interaction of these systems which can be examined even more in the human research. It can thus be used for studying the anti-ageing process as well as skin cancer approaches. The research can prove to be beneficial to the pharmaceutical companies.
The researchers however explained that further work needed to be done in order to see whether sun burn in whales can lead to skin cancer. The researchers also wanted to know whether early warning system for animals can be developed or not.