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Mammals have all kinds of lifespans ranging from six months to 200 years old. This is a fact that has often perplexed scientists around the world.

Now, researchers from the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Cambridge may have solved that mystery and the solution relates to the speed of genetic damage, according to a press release by the institution released Wednesday. Their work analyzed the genomes from 16 species of mammal (from mice to giraffes) and found that the longer the lifespan of a species, the slower the rate at which DNA mutations occur.

This means that the long-living animals are the ones capable of successfully slowing down their rate of DNA mutations regardless of their size.

“To find a similar pattern of genetic changes in animals as different from one another as a mouse and a tiger was surprising. But the most exciting aspect of the study has to be finding that lifespan is inversely proportional to the somatic mutation rate. This suggests that somatic mutations may play a role in ageing, although alternative explanations may be possible. Over the next few years, it will be fascinating to extend these studies into even more diverse species, such as insects or plants," said Dr Alex Cagan of the Wellcome Sanger Institute and co-author of the new study.

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