Telomeres Go Batty over…BATS!

More evidence that the prevention of telomere shortening is the key to anti-aging.

Bats are the longest-lived mammals relative to body size, and a species called the greater mouse-eared bat lives especially long.

Researchers now have unlocked some of this bat’s longevity secrets, with hints for fighting the effects of aging in people.

Scientists at University College in Dublin have discovered that unlike in people and most other mammals, the telomeres in the cells of the Greater Mouse-Eared Bat don’t shorten with time – one of the key causes of aging in humans.

Prof Emma Teeling

Prof Emma Teeling

Study co-author Emma Teeling and her colleagues conducted wing biopsies on close to 500 bats of four different species at field sites across Europe. Tissue analysis revealed that while the telomeres shortened with age in two bat species, Rhinolophus ferrumequinum and Miniopterus schreibersii, no such change occurred in species belonging to Myotis, the bat species with the greatest longevity.

“Our results suggest that long-lived bats have evolved better mechanisms to prevent and repair age-induced cellular damage,” Teeling tells The Irish Times. “Studying wild bats in an ageing context may provide exciting new solutions to slow down the ageing process and ultimately extend human health-spans,” says Professor Teeling.

Only 19 mammal species are longer-lived than humans relative to body size. Eighteen of them are bats, some living more than four decades. The other is a weird African rodent called a naked mole rat. The Greater Mouse-Eared Bat can live to 37 years, and they don’t die from old age, says Professor Teeling. “They die of things like starvation, or having an accident, or not having enough water.”

Telomeres are protective caps at the ends of chromosomes that shorten each time a cell divides. This drives the natural aging process, leading to a breakdown of cells that over time can drive tissue deterioration and eventually death.

“Studying exceptionally long-living mammals that have naturally evolved mechanisms to fight aging is an alternative way to identify the molecular basis of extended ‘health spans,’” says professor Teeling. “Bats are an exciting new model species that will enable us to identify new molecular mechanisms that drive healthy aging.”

Based on body size, the greater mouse-eared bat would be predicted to have a maximum lifespan of four years. Its range spans from Western Europe into the Middle East. It preys on large, ground-dwelling creatures like beetles, crickets and spiders.

The research was published in the journal Science Advances.

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