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Researchers from across Europe and the United States are studying a remarkable marine clam which can give us important insights into two very different but very important subjects: climate change and the ageing process.

The key characteristic of Arctica islandica is its amazing lifespan. Scientists at Bangor University have recently found a specimen that lived for more than 500 years, making this species the longest-lived non-colonial animal so far discovered. Just like trees, A. islandica deposits annual bands in its shell and these can be used as a record of the animal’s environment, making it possible to reconstruct changes in sea temperatures over many hundreds of years. And because it is apparently resistant to some common indicators of ageing, A. islandica also has great potential for research into aging processes and the factors that contribute to a long and healthy life.

“Thanks to its extraordinary staying power, Arctica islandica can give us a unique record of marine climate and a fantastic model for ageing processes” says Professor James Scourse, School of Ocean Sciences, Bangor University.

Visitors to the exhibit will learn how to tell exactly when shells were living. They’ll be able to compare A. islandica for longevity with other bivalves, including a giant clam that’s much bigger than Arctica but doesn’t live nearly as long. And younger visitors will get to enjoy a genuine beach experience.

Further information

Exhibited by Bangor University; University of St Andrews; Iowa State University, USA; Johannes Gutenberg University, Germany; Natural Environment Reasearh Council Radiocarbon Facility; Natural Environment Research Council Facility for Scientific Diving; British Geological Survey; Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Germany; Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, The Netherlands; Research into Ageing

See all exhibits from 2010