The secrets of living to 200 years old

Just 30 years after the publication of Moby Dick, a group of Alaskan whalers attempted to tame their own ocean giant. Their target was a male bowhead whale, the second largest mammal on Earth. The species were already famed for their amazing longevity: according to Inuit folklore, they could live "two human lifetimes", and they were known to escape harpoons with their great strength.

These whalers were armed with the latest technology, however - a "bomb lance", fired with gunpowder on impact to pierce through the thick whale blubber. Yet it was not enough to conquer the whale. Three fragments of the lance caught in its side, but - like Moby Dick - it pulled away and escaped with little more than a surface wound.

The whale would continue to roam free for another 120 years, until 2007, when a group of Inupiat hunters finally caught the beast. They even found fragments of the original lance still embedded in the whale's blubber.

Vadim Gladyshev at Harvard University agrees.

“This is the most important biological question, because the majority of chronic human diseases are the consequences of ageing. The way biomedical science is organised, it has mostly focused on particular diseases, like cancer, Alzheimer’s, or diabetes,” he says. “But if you delay ageing you could delay the incidence of all these diseases at once.”

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