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Decrease of Telomeres in Inbred Birds Linked to Shorter Lifespan

May 17, 2016 10:23 PM EDT
Seychelles Warbler
A new study shows that inbreeding might negatively affect the length of telomeres leading to a shorter lifespan.
(Photo : University of East Anglia)

Inbreeding has been widely accepted to result to several serious health complications such as genetic disorders, especially physical deformities.

Previous research also associated inbreeding with shorter lifespan and now a new research from the University of East Anglia has discovered that inbred birds are most likely to have lesser pieces of DNA that can predict lifespan.

The study, published in the journal Molecular Ecology, suggests that the condition of telomeres, a common DNA piece that can be found in almost all animals, can precisely measure the negative effects of inbreeding.

Telomeres are distinctive structures found at the end of chromosomes, which provides protection from damaging substances. Overtime, telomeres might break down and become shorter due to the absorption of damage experienced during life. Excessive shortening of telomeres can lead to faster pace of aging and early onset of age-related diseases.

"In humans, things like smoking, eating foods that are bad for you, and putting your body through extreme physical or mental stress all have a shortening effect on telomeres. In the wild, inbred animals are less able to cope when the environment is bad, and the stress of such situations causes further telomere shortening," said Lead author of the research Kat Bebbington, a PhD student in UEA's School of Biological Sciences, in a statement.

For the study, researchers analyzed a 320-strong population of Seychelles warblers - a small island bird endemic to the Seychelles islands. Over the course of 14 years, the researchers collected a total of 1,064 of blood samples from 592 birds.

The researchers discovered that the effects of inbreeding in telomeres length are more apparent in stressful situations including seasons with food scarcity. They also found out that the trans-generational effect in inbreeding, which means the more inbred a mother is, the greater the telomere shortening in her young.

Their findings strongly suggest that the effects of inbreeding may depend on certain environmental factors during the early stages of life, but may accumulate throughout life.

Researchers hope that the result of their study can greatly help zookeepers monitor the genetic make-up of their animals and ensure they live long and healthy lives.

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