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Mol Ecol. 2004 Sep;13(9):2523-33.

Measuring vertebrate telomeres: applications and limitations.

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  • 1Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, S10 2TN, UK.


Telomeres are short tandem repeated sequences of DNA found at the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes that function in stabilizing chromosomal end integrity. In vivo studies of somatic tissue of mammals and birds have shown a correlation between telomere length and organismal age within species, and correlations between telomere shortening rate and lifespan among species. This result presents the tantalizing possibility that telomere length could be used to provide much needed information on age, ageing and survival in natural populations where longitudinal studies are lacking. Here we review methods available for measuring telomere length and discuss the potential uses and limitations of telomeres as age and ageing estimators in the fields of vertebrate ecology, evolution and conservation.

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