Life Lines by Dr. Dolittle

Sponsored by the American Physiological Society

Can lobsters lead us to the proverbial ‘Fountain of Youth’?

When thinking about lobsters, some people may think of:

By The Pancake of Heaven! – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Aside from being a favorite menu item, did you know that American lobsters (Homarus americanus) are one of the largest bottom dwelling (i.e. benthic) invertebrate in the ocean? In fact, they seem to be able to grow indefinitely and have been observed to reach over 1 meter in length? For this reason, scientists suspect they may be a rather long-lived species given their size. To grow, lobsters repeatedly shed their cuticles (outer layer) throughout their life, making it difficult to determine just how long they really live. Estimates range from 50-100 years based on their size.

In a new study published in Science Advances, an international team of scientists sequenced the genome of the American lobster (Homarus americanus), which holds many clues on lobster longevity and resistance to environmental toxins and threats. Specifically, the team identified genes involved in maintaining the integrity of the genome itself, including genes associated with repairing DNA, regulating cell cycles and apoptosis, and preventing tumor formation. In one example, they identified three homologs of the p53 gene. For comparison, humans only have one copy of this gene whereas African elephants have 20 copies, which helps explain resistance to tumor growth in these long-lived gigantic animals.

American lobsters were also discovered to have several genes that are involved in protecting the animals from environmental threats including genes associated with combating oxidative stress, metal exposure, pesticide resistance, heat damage, and detoxification of drugs and other environmental toxins.

Understanding the lobster genome may not only provide insights into healthy aging, but also information on how these animals adapt to their changing environment.


Polinski JM, Zimin AV, Clark KF, Kohn AB, Sadowski N, Timp W, Ptitsyn A, Khanna P, Romanova DY, Williams P, Greenwood SJ, Moroz LL, Walt DR, Bodnar AG. The American lobster genome reveals insights on longevity, neural, and immune adaptations. Science Advances. 7(26): eabe8290, 2021.

Abegglen LM, Caulin AF, Chan A, Lee K, Robinson R, Campbell MS, Kiso WK, Schmitt DL, Waddell PJ, Bhaskara S, Jensen ST, Maley CC, Schiffman JD. Potential mechanisms for cancer resistance in elephants and comparative cellular response to DNA damage in humans. JAMA. 314(17): 1850-1860, 2015.

Categories: Aging, Agriculture, Aquaculture, and Livestock, Climate Change, Environment, Extreme Animals, Nature's Solutions, Ocean Life

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