Age estimation by DNA methylation in the Antarctic minke whale


Determining the age of wild animals is very important in the study of their ecology and for stock assessment and management. In baleen whales, the most common approach for age estimation is by counting the growth layers appearing in earplugs. Although this method is actually considered the most reliable tool for age determination in whales, it cannot be performed on free-ranging individuals. A recent study reported that the CpG methylation frequency of specific genes (GRIA2 and CDKN2A) correlated significantly with age in humpback whales. The implication of this result is that DNA analysis based on biopsy samples is a potentially useful approach for age estimation in free-ranging whales. In this study, we investigated whether the age-related CpG sites in the GRIA2 and CDKN2A genes found in humpback whales are also found in Antarctic minke whales. Results showed that the CpG methylation frequency of the GRIA2 gene correlated positively with age in Antarctic minke whales, although the CpG sites were different from those in humpback whales. These findings suggest that age-related CpGs (AR-CpGs) can differ even between closely related species, and that it is necessary to find species-specific AR-CpGs for estimating animal age from DNA methylation patterns.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Access options

Buy single article

Instant unlimited access to the full article PDF.

US$ 39.95

Price includes VAT for USA

Subscribe to journal

Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.

US$ 99

This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4


  1. Gabriele CM, Lockyer C, Straley JM, Jurasz CM, Kato H (2010) Sighting history of a naturally marked humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) suggests ear plug growth layer groups are deposited annually. Mar Mammal Sci 26:443–450

  2. Gonzalez-Zulueta M, Bender CM, Yang AS, Nguyen T, Beart RW, Van Tornout JM et al (1995) Methylation of the 5' CpG island of the p16/CDKN2 tumor suppressor gene in normal and transformed human tissues correlates with gene silencing. Cancer Res 55(20):4531–4535

  3. Grönniger E, Weber B, Heil O, Peters N, Stäb F, Wenck H, Korn B, Winnefeld M, Lyko F (2010) Aging and chronic sun exposure cause distinct epigenetic changes in human skin. PLoS Genet 6:e1000971

  4. Hannum G, Guinney J, Zhao L, Zhang L, Hughes G, Sadda S, Klotzle B, Bibikova M, Fan JB, Gao Y, Deconde R, Chen M, Rajapakse I, Friend S, Ideker T, Zhang K (2013) Genome-wide methylation profiles reveal quantitative views of human aging rates. Mol Cell 49:359–367

  5. Horvath S (2013) DNA methylation age of human tissues and cell types. Genome Biol 14:R115

  6. Jarman SN, Polanowski AM, Faux CE, Robbins J, De Paoli-Iseppi R, Bravington M, Deagle BE (2015) Molecular biomarkers for chronological age in animal ecology. Mol Ecol 24(19):4826–4847

  7. Jones MJ, Goodman SJ, Kobor MS (2015) DNA methylation and healthy human aging. Aging Cell 14(6):924–932

  8. Koch CM, Wagner W (2011) Epigenetic-aging-signature to determine age in different tissues. Aging (Albany NY) 3:1018–1027.

  9. Koch CM, Suschek CV, Lin Q, Bork S, Goergens M, Joussen S, Pallua N, Ho AD, Zenke M, Wagner W (2011) Specific age-associated DNA methylation changes in human dermal fibroblasts. PLoS One 6(2):e16679

  10. Krugers HJ, Hoogenraad CC, Groc L (2010) Stress hormones and AMPA receptor trafficking in synaptic plasticity and memory. Nat Rev Neurosci 11:675–681

  11. Lockyer C (1984) Age determination by means of the earplug in baleen whales. Rep Int Whal Comm 34:692–696

  12. Maegawa S, Hinkal G, Kim HS, Shen L, Zhang L, Zhang J et al (2010) Widespread and tissue specific age-related DNA methylation changes in mice. Genome Res 20(3):332–340

  13. Mead AN, Stephens DN (2003) Involvement of AMPA receptor GluR2 subunits in stimulus-reward learning: evidence from glutamate receptor gria2 knock-out mice. J Neurosci 23:9500–9507

  14. Polanowski AM, Robbins J, Chandler D, Jarman SN (2014) Epi-genetic estimation of age in humpback whales. Mol Ecol Resour 14:976–987

  15. Serrano M, Hannon GJ, Beach D (1993) A new regulatory motif in cell-cycle control causing specific inhibition of cyclin D/CDK4. Nature 366(6456):704–707

  16. Smeds J, Berggren P, Ma X, Xu Z, Hemminki K, Kumar R (2002) Genetic status of cell cycle regulators in squamous cell carcinoma of the oesophagus: the CDKN2A (p16(INK4a) and p14(ARF)) and p53 genes are major targets for inactivation. Carcinogenesis 23(4):645–655

  17. Su AI, Wiltshire T, Batalov S, Lapp H, Ching KA, Block D, Zhang J, Soden R, Hayakawa M, Kreiman G, Cooke MP, Walker JR, Hogenesch JB (2004) A gene atlas of the mouse and human protein-encoding transcriptomes. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 101:6062–6067

  18. Thompson MJ, vonHoldt B, Horvath S, Pellegrini M (2017) An epigenetic aging clock for dogs and wolves. Aging (Albany NY) 9(3):1055–1068

  19. Zhang Y, Xiong Y (2001) Control of p53 ubiquitination and nuclear export by MDM2 and ARF. Cell Growth Differ 12(4):175–186

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to Hiroeki Sahara.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Tanabe, A., Shimizu, R., Osawa, Y. et al. Age estimation by DNA methylation in the Antarctic minke whale. Fish Sci 86, 35–41 (2020) doi:10.1007/s12562-019-01371-7

Download citation


  • Whale
  • Epigenetics
  • DNA methylation
  • Age-related CpG