According to the international team of scientists, including Dr Mary O’Connell from the School of Biology at Leeds, in the Myotis species of bats – which are known to have the longest lifespan in the bat world – telomeres do not shorten with age.
In other bats species, humans and other animals, telomeres have been observed to shorten as the animal ages. This is connected to the age-related breakdown of cells that over the course of a lifetime can drive tissue deterioration and ultimately death.
To conduct the study, researchers took 3mm wing biopsies from some 500 wild bats from across four species they captured, marked and released.
The samples were flash frozen in liquid nitrogen or desiccated using silica beads, before high-molecular weight DNA was extracted, and any changes in telomere length were assessed.
At Leeds, Dr O’Connell carried out an analysis of protein coding sequences as part of the research, to explain which proteins were most likely to have changed their functions in one type of bat as opposed to the others.
Her contribution to the study meant the team could determine if there were genes that had contributed to increased lifespan.
Dr O’Connell said: “Studying the genomes of a wide variety of organisms, as well as those that scientists traditionally rely on, is key to understanding biomedically important traits, such as increased longevity without the greater risk of disease associated with longer life span, reduced or low risk of cancer, and many others."
To uncover how the long-lived species of bats can maintain their telomeres over time, the researchers compared their genomes with those of 52 other mammals, focusing on 225 genes associated with the maintenance of telomeres.
“Our results suggest that long-lived bats have evolved better mechanisms to prevent and repair age-induced cellular damage. In particular two genes ATM and SETX may drive this,” said Professor Emma Teeling from University College Dublin, senior author of the research paper.
Professor Teeling added: “Bats showed no expression of telomerase but rather, may have evolved a unique process to lengthen their chromosomes without inducing cancer. These are exciting new results that we need to further explore to uncover how bats can remain healthy as time passes.”
The results of the study are a first step in helping scientists to understand the molecular mechanisms bats have evolved that underlie their unusual and long, life-spans.
Studying wild bats in an ageing context may provide exciting new solutions to slow down the ageing process and ultimately extend human health spans.
The study involving 10 different research and conservation institutes from across five different countries was funded by the European Research Council and included bat biologists from Ireland, France, Portugal, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
Journalists with questions should contact Peter Le Riche in the University of Leeds press office on +44(0)113 343 2049 or email email@example.com
Contributing institutes of the international team were: University College Dublin, Ireland; Bretagne Vivante, Brittany; France; University of Greifswald, Germany; INRA, Rennes, France; University of Bristol; University of Porto, Portugal; University of Lisbon, Portugal; Institute for Nature Conservation and Forestry, Lisbon, Portugal; University of Leeds; University of Toulouse III-Paul Sabatier, France.
Jessica Kwok and Ronaldo Ichiyama, International Spinal Research Trust (Feb 2018), £94,450
Dave Lewis and Colleagues in South Africa, HEFCE Global Challenge Research (Jan 2018), £48,000
Sarah Calaghan, Ed White, John Colyer, Isuru Jayasinghe, BHF (Jan 2018), £128,308
Christine Foyer and Alison Baker, HEFCE GCRF Grant (Jan 2018), £71,158
Alison Baker, Yun Yung Gong and Lindsay Stringer and ICRISAT India, HEFCE GCRF Grant (Jan 2018), £27,000
Graham Askew, Simon Walker, BBSRC (Jan 2018), £699,781
Jennifer Tomlinson, Royal Society (Jan 2018), £512,801
Alison Dunn, NERC (Dec 2017), £18,000
Jennifer Tomlinson, Royal Society-Research Fellows Enhancement Award (Dec 2017), £94,681
Helen Miller, AB AGri Grant (Dec 2017), £73,600
Simon Walker, Royal Society Enhancement Award (Dec 2017), £10,000
Carrie Ferguson, Bryan Taylor, Harry Rossiter, The Physiological Society (Dec 2017), £7,392
Ralf Richter, Royal Society (Dec 2017), £6,000
Christine Foyer, British Council Newton Fund (Dec 2017), £49,840
Adrian Whitehouse and colleagues in School of Chemistry and University of Liverpool, MRC (Nov 2017), £622,319
Michelle Peckham, Neil Ransom, MRC (Nov 2017), £495,159
Dave Lewis, British Council India (Nov 2017), £22,540
Hannah Dugdale, Royal Society (Nov 2017), £15,000
Elton Zeqiraj, Royal Society (Nov 2017), £15,000
Shaunna Burke, Cancer Research UK Innovation Grant (Nov 2017), £20,000
Alex O'Neill and colleagues in Chemistry, BBSRC (Nov 2017), £431,865
Jessica Kwok, Wings for Life (Nov 2017), £87,365
Tom Bennett, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £523,679
Neil Ranson, Darren Tomlinson, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £494,318
Nikita Gamper, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £490,426
Amanda Bretman and colleagues from UEA, NERC (Oct 2017), £430,886
Juan Fontana, Rosetrees Trust consumables grant (Oct 2017), £22,500
Helen Miller, DSM Nutritional Products AG (Sep 2017), £69,988
Neil Ranson, Juan Fontana, Mark Harris, Michelle Peckham, Ralf Richter, Peter Stockley, Patricija Van Oosten-Hawle and colleagues in Engineering, FMH and MAPS, Wellcome Trust Equipment Call (Sep 2017), £418,000
Jamie Johnston, Physiological Society (Sep 2017), £10,000
Frank Sobott, Adrian Goldman, Mark Harris, Andrew Macdonald, Stephen Muench, Sheena Radford and colleagues in FMH and MAPS, Wellcome Trust Equipment Call (Aug 2017), £415,000
Ralf Richter, David Brockwell, Eric Hewitt, Jessica Kwok, Emanuele Paci and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £600,000
Eric Blair, Adrian Whitehouse, Nicola Stonehouse, Alison Baker, Richard Bayliss, Joan Boyes, Ryan Seipke, Sally Boxall and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £376,000
Stefan Kepinski, Yoselin Benitez-Alfonso, Tom Bennett, Michelle Peckham, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £331,000
Roman Tuma, Lars Jeuken, Paul Millner, Sheena Radford, Peter Stockley and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £222,000
Vas Ponnambalam, Darren Tomlinson, Stephen Wheatcroft, BHF (May 2017), £107,878
Graham Askew in collaboration with Bangor University, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £477,383
Stephen Muench, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £132,945
Nic Stonehouse, MRC (Mar 2017), £906,341
Bill Kunin, Steve Sait, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £602,831
Adrian Goldman, EU (Mar 2017), £546,576
Sheena Radford, Wellcome Trust (Mar 2017), £1,836,482
Tom Bennett, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Jamie Johnston, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Beatrice Filippi, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000