Scientists study why the blind salamander lives so long

Proteus anguinus
Proteus anguinus. Image crecit: CNRS
( -- Scientists have long been intrigued by the longevity of a tiny amphibian known as the blind salamander, but it now seems it may live a long time because it basically has no life.

The blind salamander (Proteus anguinus), also known as the olm, has the longest lifespan of any , often living to over 70 in zoos, and with a predicted maximum age of over 100. It reaches during its fifteenth year and lays about 35 eggs every 12.5 years.

The amphibian spends its entire life in water in the dark limestone caves in southern Europe. Its eyes are atrophied and it has almost no skin pigments. The skin looks pink because the blood shows through, leading to the olm sometimes being called the “human fish”.

The olm is a snake-like creature 25-30 cm long and weighing only up to 20 grams. Most tiny creatures have short lifespans, which is thought to be due to having higher metabolisms that in essence burn the creatures out more quickly, but the olm has a similar metabolic rate to its closest relatives, which have much shorter lifespans. There is also no unusual antioxidant activity in the olm that might explain its longevity.

Scientists at a cave station set up at Moulis, Saint-Girons in France have been studying the olm, an endangered species, since 1952. The cave is a faithful reproduction of the olm’s and has over 400 in residence. It is the only successful breeding program of the amphibian, and the project is operated by the National Center for Scientific Research in France. Data on deaths and breeding activity have been recorded at the cave station since 1958.

Ecophysiologist Yann Voituron and colleagues, from the Université Claude Bernard Lyon, have been studying the salamanders to try to understand why they live so long in comparison to their relatives. Voituron said they would like to look at the “usual genes associated with increases in lifespan, and maybe hope to detect something new.” They would also like to analyze the creatures on a cellular level and examine their mitochondria, for example, but this would necessitate killing the animals, and they do not want to do this because they have so few to work with.

The scientists estimated the maximum age from the knowledge the oldest inhabitants of the cave are now at least 48 and probably in their mid or late fifties, and in related species the average lifespan is between 10 and 67 percent of the longest lifespan known for the species. This gives a conservative estimate of a maximum lifespan of 102 years for the olm, or almost double the maximum lifespan of other long-lived amphibians such as the Japanese giant salamander, with a maximum of 55 years.

Voituron said the studies have shown the olm is extremely inactive and rarely moves except to feed and to reproduce (which only happens every 12.5 years). There are no predators in the caves, so they live a stress-free life.

The researchers think the salamander’s limited activity and an adjusted physiology may be a way to reduce production of reactive oxygen species (that damage cells as they age) without increased antioxidants or a lower basal . The paper, published online in the journal Royal Society Biology Letters concludes the olm raises questions about agiing and "appears as a promising model” to study mechanisms preventing aging processes in vertebrates.

Explore further

Scientists develop resource to study animal aging

More information: Extreme lifespan of the human fish (Proteus anguinus): a challenge for ageing mechanisms, Biology Letters, Published online before print July 21, 2010, doi:10.1098/rsbl.2010.0539

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Citation: Scientists study why the blind salamander lives so long (2010, July 22) retrieved 25 April 2019 from
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Jul 22, 2010
Male phenotype is associated with a higher risk existence, hence shortened life span. Maybe you should have thought of that before labeling 50% of the human species as lethargic house pets, f**king idiot.

Jul 22, 2010
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Jul 22, 2010
Wow... we just went straight there didn't we, absolutely amazing. Usually I'd take that as a joke but the Internet has shown me people really are that stupid. I guess keeping the house clean while simultaneously taking care of (one or more) usually over talkative bouncing off the walls rambunctious children all day while going to the store to get and prepare dinner then having to deal with another big baby coming home from work is really really easy. Because let me tell you, I am a man and I don't want to have to deal with children all day, its not easy, and on top of that most women arn't JUST house wives, they have jobs, real jobs such as layers and police officers. We live in the 21st century, I haven't seen a REAL house wife since the 80's

Jul 22, 2010
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Jul 22, 2010
Ha my house wife gets 30-40 minutes of cardio per day. I would say that she is very well stimulated.

Jul 22, 2010
.... they have jobs, real jobs such as layers and police officers...

Layers? Sounds kinky. I'm definitely not leaving my wife home alone again.

Female police officers? They have those?!

Jul 23, 2010
The truth is with no eyes, they live longer because they aren't subjected to Reality TV!!!

Jul 25, 2010
OK. Back on topic.

One way to increase life span in humans has seemingly been the lifestyles of people like gurus, etc in India, Tibetan priests/initiates in Nepal.

As well, there are people right now (western research), actually dedicating their lives (in the strongest way possible) by reducing their intake and slowing down their lives, to see if this equates directly to human life extension.

One interesting way or attempt has been that of hard exercise and then more sedentary aspects, to keep the body healthy and then slow the heart rate and metabolism via meditation, etc.

As for television the body/mind was not designed for it and I don't indulge in it at all anymore, not for the past 14 years or so. If I wish to indulge I can watch a film, but it ends there. No television in the house. Our visualization systems and how they connect to the brain are literally not designed to be able to differentiate truth from fiction at that level-thus the subliminal aspects are detrimental.

Jul 26, 2010
Why would someone want a life of doing nothing? so that one can see a future made by those that lived short and fulfilling lives?

I say its better to live and do something useful than bum around in some mountain and meditating on becoming a vegetable.

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