Oldest Biggest Tortoise in the World

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Jonathan, the 183 year old giant Tortoise

jonathan the tortoise
Left: Jonathan the Tortoise at roughly 70 years old in 1902    Right: St Helena Island

Jonathan the Tortoise lives on the British outpost of St Helena Island which is about 1200 miles off the Southwest coast of Africa. He’s almost almost completely blind and has loss his sense of smell. Jonathan got us thinking about aging and quality of life. There’s been an increasing amount of research recently regarding telomeres and their effect on aging.

Telomeres are the caps(the white “dots”) at the ends of chromosomes(grey).

Telomeres are the caps at the end of each strand of DNA that protect our chromosomes, like the plastic tips at the end of shoelaces.

Without the coating, shoelaces become frayed until they can no longer do their job, just as without telomeres, DNA strands become damaged and our cells can’t do their job.

-Blackburn EH, Epel ES. Comment: Too toxic to ignore. Nature. 2012;490:169-171.

Scientists are currently looking into ways to lengthen telomeres but exercise-induced telomere lengthening may be a way for Mark Anders’ viewers to take matters into their own hands and stave off the effects of aging.  Reduced sitting, even more so than exercise, may increase telomere length:

A 2013 pilot study from UCSF took 35 men with localized early-stage prostate cancer and had 10 of them begin “lifestyle changes that included: a plant-based diet (high in fruits, vegetables and unrefined grains, and low in fat and refined carbohydrates); moderate exercise (walking 30 minutes a day, six days a week); stress reduction (gentle yoga-based stretching, breathing, meditation)” and also “weekly group support”. When compared to the other 25 study participants, “The group that made the lifestyle changes experienced a ‘significant’ increase in telomere length of approximately 10 percent. Further, the more people changed their behavior by adhering to the recommended lifestyle program, the more dramatic their improvements in telomere length.” A 2014 study entitled “Stand up for health–avoiding sedentary behaviour might lengthen your telomeres: secondary outcomes from a physical activity RCT in older people” indicated somewhat contradictory results, stating, “In the intervention group, there was a negative correlation between changes in time spent exercising and changes in telomere length (rho=-0.39, p=0.07). On the other hand, in the intervention group, telomere lengthening was significantly associated with reduced sitting time (rho=-0.68, p=0.02).


fountain of youth
Is the fountain of youth imminent?

As technology improves people will not only live much longer but will also look and function younger at advanced ages. Eventually aging will take on a new connotation as people over 100 will not differ physiologically from considerably younger individuals.

Marks Anders Oldest Biggest Tortoise transcript


Andrew Jackson was the US President the year Jonathan was born.

Harry Callahan: So, there’s this giant tortoise named Jonathan who’s in the news because he reached the ripe old age of one hundred and eighty three.

Paul Kersey: And its not because he died. He’s still alive.

Harry Callahan: That kind of relates to humans longevity because they’re finding ways to manipulate the telomeres which are the caps on the ends of the chromosomes. When they’re damaged you age at a quicker rate.

Paul Kersey: Well, they become damaged through age.

Harry Callahan: And also lifestyle, stress, and probably alcohol and other things.

Paul Kersey: And crystal meth’s probably not the way to extend your life and maybe they’re studying this ancient tortoise to find ways to extend human life.

The baby that will live to be 150 has already been born.

Harry Callahan: They say that the human that’s going to reach one hundred and fifty years old has already been born. Now, if a person lives to one hundred and fifty years from now, they’ll obviously have better technology, or hopefully, and that will extend them further and they’ll be able to take advantage of future technology. Is it possible that a person that is already alive will have the potential to live forever?

Paul Kersey: I think anything is possible but where will they live? This planet is going in to the dump. It’s falling apart at the seams. We’re losing everything. Natural resources are disappearing at an alarming rate.

Harry Callahan: Yeah, but humans are born with the ability to adapt and I’m sure at some point they’ll find a way to-

Will humans be forced to live in outer space before they find immortality?

Paul Kersey: Live in outer space?

Harry Callahan: Not only that, they’ll find away to overcome any problems that might arise.


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