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Sci Adv. 2018 Feb 7;4(2):eaao0926. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aao0926. eCollection 2018 Feb.

Growing old, yet staying young: The role of telomeres in bats' exceptional longevity.

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School of Biology and Environmental Science, Science Centre West, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland.
Ecologie et Santé des Ecosystèmes (ESE), Ecology and Ecosystem Health, Agrocampus Ouest, INRA, 35042 Rennes, France.
Laboratoire Évolution et Diversité Biologique, UMR 5174: Université Toulouse III, CNRS, ENFA, 118 Route de Narbonne, 31062 Toulouse cedex 9, France.
Le Groupe Chiroptères de Bretagne Vivante/SEPNB, 19 rue Gouesnou BP 62132, 29221 Brest cedex 2, France.
School of Biological Sciences, Life Sciences Building, University of Bristol, Bristol BS8 1TH, UK.
School of Biology, Faculty of Biological Sciences, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK.
University of Greifswald, Loitzer Strasse 26, 17489 Greifswald, Germany.
CIBIO-InBIO, Universidade do Porto, Campus de Agrário Vairão, Rua Padre Armando Quintas, 4485-661 Vairão, Portugal.
CEABN-InBIO, Instituto Superior de Agronomia, Universidade de Lisboa, 1349-015 Lisboa, Portugal.
Instituto da Conservação da Natureza e das Florestas, Avenida da República 16-16B, 1050-191 Lisboa, Portugal.


Understanding aging is a grand challenge in biology. Exceptionally long-lived animals have mechanisms that underpin extreme longevity. Telomeres are protective nucleotide repeats on chromosome tips that shorten with cell division, potentially limiting life span. Bats are the longest-lived mammals for their size, but it is unknown whether their telomeres shorten. Using >60 years of cumulative mark-recapture field data, we show that telomeres shorten with age in Rhinolophus ferrumequinum and Miniopterus schreibersii, but not in the bat genus with greatest longevity, Myotis. As in humans, telomerase is not expressed in Myotis myotis blood or fibroblasts. Selection tests on telomere maintenance genes show that ATM and SETX, which repair and prevent DNA damage, potentially mediate telomere dynamics in Myotis bats. Twenty-one telomere maintenance genes are differentially expressed in Myotis, of which 14 are enriched for DNA repair, and 5 for alternative telomere-lengthening mechanisms. We demonstrate how telomeres, telomerase, and DNA repair genes have contributed to the evolution of exceptional longevity in Myotis bats, advancing our understanding of healthy aging.

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