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Last Updated: Sunday, 28 October 2007, 15:50 GMT
Ming the clam is oldest mollusc
Ming the clam (Source: Bangor University)
Shakespeare was writing plays when the clam was a juvenile
A clam dredged up off the coast of Iceland is thought to have been the longest-lived mollusc discovered.

Scientists said the ocean quahog clam was aged between 405 and 410 years and could offer insights into the secrets of longevity.

Researchers from Bangor University in north Wales said they calculated its age by counting rings on its shell.

The clam has been nicknamed Ming, after the Chinese dynasty in power when it was born.

They are like tiny tape-recorders... sitting on the sea-bed and integrating signals about water temperature and food over time
Professor Chris Richardson
Bangor University

Unofficially, another clam - found in an Icelandic museum - was discovered to be 374-years-old, Bangor University said, making their clam at least 31 years older.

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.

"And so by looking at these molluscs we can reconstruct the environment the animals grew in. They are like tiny tape-recorders, in effect, sitting on the sea-bed and integrating signals about water temperature and food over time."

'Escaping' old age

Prof Richardson said the clam's discovery could help shed light on how some animals can live to extraordinary ages.

"What's intriguing the Bangor group is how these animals have actually managed, in effect, to escape senescence [growing old]," he said.

"One of the reasons we think is that the animals have got some difference in cell turnover rates that we would associate with much shorter-lived animals."

He said the university had received money from the UK charity Help The Aged to help fund its research.

A scientist explains how they found out the clam's age

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