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Methods Ecol Evol. 2014 Apr;5(4):299-310. Epub 2014 Mar 2.

Measuring telomere length and telomere dynamics in evolutionary biology and ecology.

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Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Centre for Immunity, Infection & Evolution, University of Edinburgh Edinburgh, EH9 3JT, UK.
Institute of Cancer and Genetics, School of Medicine, Cardiff University Cardiff, CF14 4XN, UK.
School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia Norwich, NR4 7TJ, UK.
Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow Glasgow, G12 8QQ, UK.
Department of Anatomy, Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution, University of Otago Dunedin, 9054, New Zealand.
Leibniz Institute for Age Research - Fritz Lipmann Institute (FLI), Molecular Genetics Group Jena, 07745, Germany.
Institute for Developmental Biology, Cologne Biocenter, University of Cologne Cologne, 50674, Germany.
Department of Biology, Bucknell University Lewisburg, PA, 17837, USA.
School of Biological Sciences, University of Sydney Sydney, NSW, 2006, Australia.
Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, University of Western Sydney Richmond, NSW, 2753, Australia.
University of Groningen Groningen, 9747 AG, Holland.
D├ępartement d'Ecologie, Physiologie et Ethologie (DEPE), Institut Pluridisciplinaire Huber Curien, CNRS UMR7178 Strasbourg Cedex 2, 67087, France ; University of Strasbourg Strasbourg Cedex, F-67081, France.


Telomeres play a fundamental role in the protection of chromosomal DNA and in the regulation of cellular senescence. Recent work in human epidemiology and evolutionary ecology suggests adult telomere length (TL) may reflect past physiological stress and predict subsequent morbidity and mortality, independent of chronological age.Several different methods have been developed to measure TL, each offering its own technical challenges. The aim of this review is to provide an overview of the advantages and drawbacks of each method for researchers, with a particular focus on issues that are likely to face ecologists and evolutionary biologists collecting samples in the field or in organisms that may never have been studied in this context before.We discuss the key issues to consider and wherever possible try to provide current consensus view regarding best practice with regard to sample collection and storage, DNA extraction and storage, and the five main methods currently available to measure TL.Decisions regarding which tissues to sample, how to store them, how to extract DNA, and which TL measurement method to use cannot be prescribed, and are dependent on the biological question addressed and the constraints imposed by the study system. What is essential for future studies of telomere dynamics in evolution and ecology is that researchers publish full details of their methods and the quality control thresholds they employ.


DNA extraction; dot blot; fluorescent in situ hybridization; life history; quantitative real-time PCR; senescence; single telomere length analysis; telomerase; telomere restriction fragment analysis

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