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A Parakeet Genome Project?

Science  16 Feb 2001:
Vol. 291, Issue 5507, pp. 1187
DOI: 10.1126/science.291.5507.1187

Researcher William Haseltine, head of Human Genome Sciences Inc. in Rockville, Maryland, likes to claim that knowledge from the human genome, combined with a few technology breakthroughs, will someday enable humans to live forever. Most researchers who study aging have more modest expectations—for example, trolling the genome for new insights into genes involved in so-called oxidative damage to cells and genes, which is thought to limit an organism's life-span.

CREDIT: ILLUSTRATION: CAMERON SLAYDEN

A few in the field have another request: sequence the parakeet. One avian genome, the chicken's, is in progress, but George Martin of the University of Washington, Seattle, and Steven Austad of the University of Idaho says aging research could gain key insights from comparing the genome of a “real flier” with that of humans. “Good flying birds have remarkably long life-spans for their size,” he says: Some can live for 20 years or more. At the same time, they use an enormous amount of energy—a process that researchers believe is at the root of oxidative damage. Mice, for example, use much less energy but typically live only 2 years. A parakeet genome project, Martin says, could tell scientists “what the birds are doing that's so great”—and how humans might mimic their secrets.

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