Telomere dynamics rather than age predict life expectancy in the wild

Proc Biol Sci. 2009 May 7;276(1662):1679-83. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2008.1817. Epub 2009 Feb 25.


Despite accumulating evidence from in vitro studies that cellular senescence is linked to telomere dynamics, how this relates to whole-organism senescence and longevity is poorly understood and controversial. Using data on telomere length in red blood cells and long-term survival from wild Alpine swifts of a range of ages, we report that the telomere length and the rate of telomere loss are predictive of life expectancy, and that slow erosion of relatively long telomeres is associated with the highest survival probabilities. Importantly, because telomere dynamics, rather than chronological age, predict life expectancy, our study provides good evidence for a mechanistic link between telomere erosion and reduced organism longevity under natural conditions, chronological age itself possibly not becoming a significant predictor until very old ages beyond those in our sample.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging / genetics*
  • Animals
  • Birds / genetics
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Female
  • Genetic Variation
  • Longevity / genetics*
  • Male
  • Telomere / physiology*