A study from the University College Dublin found that two species of long-lived bats have evolved unique tricks to prevent their telomeres from shortening with age.
“Only 19 species of mammal are longer-lived than humans given their body size, and 18 of these species are bats," the authors wrote in Science Advances.
"Bats are the longest-lived mammals relative to their body size, with the oldest bat recaptured (Myotis brandtii) being >41 years old…Living ~9.8 times longer than predicted for its size.”
Every time a cell replicates, it must unzip the double-stranded DNA bundled in the chromosomes and make a copy of each half. A short section at the end of the chromosome is lost during each iteration because the enzymes that string together new copies of the DNA template cannot reach all the way down.
To protect the important genes encoded on the strand from being lost during this process, complex organisms evolved to have extra sections of nonessential DNA at the end of each chromosome. The repeated sequences of filler nucleotides constitute the telomere.
As we age, the telomeres in the majority of our cells become shorter and shorter. The consequences of this are not yet fully understood, but evidence suggests that our potential lifespan and several signs of aging (including gray hair and poor wound healing) may be influenced by the integrity of our telomeres
Earlier studies implied that bats have long telomeres compared to other species, so the UCD group led by Dr Nicole Foley decided to dig deeper.