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article imageClam remains calm as winner of World's Oldest Living Animal title

By Lenny Stoute     Oct 29, 2007 in Science
Ring count at Bangor U. confirms Ming the Mollusk to be the oldest living animal on the planet. Ming took the title away form another clam, continuing the mollusk dominance of this category.
Behold the mighty mollusk. Shakespeare was penning plays when Ming the clam was a hyperactive tween, bouncing around the ocean floor with the speed of a soggy Nerf ball.
Now the playwright lies a'mouldering in the grave and the clam recently rose from the wrong side of the fjords off Iceland to claim the title of The World's Oldest Living Animal.
Scientists at Bangor University in north Wales said the mollusk, an ocean quahog clam, was aged between 405 and 410 years. Once Ming had settled down from the excitement of winning the title, researchers were able to confirm his age by counting rings on its shell.
A quick call to the folks at Guinness Book of Records indicated the longest-lived animal was a clam found in 1982 aged 220.
However, within 24 hours, another claimant to the tittle had to be fought off and this one close to home. An Icelandic museum claimed another quahog with a ring count of 374-years-old.
The high-anxiety world of clam research held its collective breath until a ring recount confirmned that Ming had won the title by 32 years.
Since winning the title, the obligatory book and movie deals have been offered up to Ming and his people are in hush hush talks with the producers of Ugly Betty.
But the clam's closest friends at Bangor U. see all that as distracting Ming from his true thing, the field of gerontology. The really relaxed metabolism of a clam make it in effect a miniature recorder and interpreter of integrated vectors such as water temperature, chemical makeup and food over time
Professor Chris Richardson, from Bangor University's School of Ocean Sciences, told the BBC: "The growth-increments themselves provide a record of how the animal has varied in its growth-rate from year to year, and that varies according to climate, sea-water temperature and food supply.
Easy to see why MIng, named for the Chinese dynasty in power when it was born, and a babe in shell when Queen Elizabeth I was on the throne and Shakespeare was turning out Othello and Hamlet, has become a huge star in the high-stakes world of anti-ageing.
Prof Richardson went on to elaborate that the greatest area of interest is how clams can live to extraordinary ages and avoid the downsides of getting old.
The weird part is preliminary studies of Ming and his like reveal a different rate of cell turnover, ones more associated with complex but shorter-lived animals.
So can what Ming's up to translate to higher life forms?
The cell rate study certainly seems to hold out hope. Which is both a good and a bad thing because at some point, it will become necessary to kill Ming for greater insight into what kept him alive.
But for now, clam's the thing and Ming's the oldest and clammiest there is.
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