Research ArticleGENETICS

Growing old, yet staying young: The role of telomeres in bats’ exceptional longevity

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Science Advances  07 Feb 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 2, eaao0926
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aao0926

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Understanding aging is a grand challenge in biology. Exceptionally long-lived animals have mechanisms that underpin extreme longevity. Telomeres are protective nucleotide repeats on chromosome tips that shorten with cell division, potentially limiting life span. Bats are the longest-lived mammals for their size, but it is unknown whether their telomeres shorten. Using >60 years of cumulative mark-recapture field data, we show that telomeres shorten with age in Rhinolophus ferrumequinum and Miniopterus schreibersii, but not in the bat genus with greatest longevity, Myotis. As in humans, telomerase is not expressed in Myotis myotis blood or fibroblasts. Selection tests on telomere maintenance genes show that ATM and SETX, which repair and prevent DNA damage, potentially mediate telomere dynamics in Myotis bats. Twenty-one telomere maintenance genes are differentially expressed in Myotis, of which 14 are enriched for DNA repair, and 5 for alternative telomere-lengthening mechanisms. We demonstrate how telomeres, telomerase, and DNA repair genes have contributed to the evolution of exceptional longevity in Myotis bats, advancing our understanding of healthy aging.

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