Extreme lifespan of the human fish (Proteus anguinus): a challenge for ageing mechanisms

Yann Voituron
Michelle de Fraipont
Julien Issartel

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Theories of extreme lifespan evolution in vertebrates commonly implicate large size and predator-free environments together with physiological characteristics like low metabolism and high protection against oxidative damages. Here, we show that the ‘human fish’ (olm, Proteus anguinus), a small cave salamander (weighing 15–20 g), has evolved an extreme life-history strategy with a predicted maximum lifespan of over 100 years, an adult average lifespan of 68.5 years, an age at sexual maturity of 15.6 years and lays, on average, 35 eggs every 12.5 years. Surprisingly, neither its basal metabolism nor antioxidant activities explain why this animal sits as an outlier in the amphibian size/longevity relationship. This species thus raises questions regarding ageing processes and constitutes a promising model for discovering mechanisms preventing senescence in vertebrates.