Turtle Telomeres

Turtle Telomeres

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Turtle Telomeres Study:

Basic research on turtle telomeres remains the cornerstone of scientific advances. Nearly forty years ago, marked the beginning of telomere research by Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn who was then working as a postdoctoral fellow and who would go on to win a Nobel Prize for her work. At the time she was working with single cell organisms and many of the basic questions asked about telomeres translated into useful information about human cells. Although the most interesting discoveries on telomeres have taken place in the last two decades, many questions remain unanswered and hence the continued value of basic research.

Case in point, it has long been known by gerontologist that aging and ability to reproduce in many species are reciprocal to one another. In other words, species that are long-lived do not reproduce often and short-lived species reproduce often. Many theories to explain these observations have been proposed and many of these theories revolve around the idea that giving birth is a stressful event to the organism and this stress shortens lifespan.

Turtle Telomeres Observations:

To test this hypothesis a group of researchers from France decided to study long-lived turtle telomeres specie’s length (Virginie Plot, PloS One, July 12, Vol 7, Issue 7). The idea is that stress would be documented to shorten turtle telomeres. Their first conclusion is that their theory was correct. By measuring turtle telomere length they were able to predict which turtles would reproduce most. The results being, longer telomeres translated to better reproduction.

A second observation was that turtles that migrated for longer periods (believed to be a mechanism for “resting”) before reproducing had longer turtle telomeres. And finally, during their experiments they decided to measure the telomere length of the hatchling turtles and mature turtles (likely as a point of reference).

Unexpectedly, they made another interesting observation. The hatchling turtles had telomere lengths of equal length to the mature turtles. What this could mean is that there are points in the lifecycle of the turtle were their telomeres do not shorten with age. [1]

This begs the question, how does this happen? How can an organism grow so much and live for so long without their telomere’s shortening? The authors conclude that there is a need to “broaden the range of organisms studied” this is an understatement since we never know what interesting observations and discoveries basic research may make next that helps humans beat the aging process.



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