Telomeres are repetitive DNA sequences at the ends of eukaryote chromosomes. Telomere loss limits the number of times cells can divide and is intimately involved in cell loss and renewal. Average telomere length in cell samples generally declines with donor age but shows substantial intraspecific variation. Telomeres are potentially of great interest to evolutionary biologists since the balance of fitness costs and benefits associated with loss and restoration is linked to the biology of life span. Most telomere research is done in the context of human disease. Recently, however, there has been a burgeoning of interest in telomere dynamics in healthy organisms. The extent to which variation in telomere loss might be involved in the evolution of life histories, and constrain or underpin life history trade-offs, is a growing field of research. I discuss what we do and do not know about the links between telomere length and life histories and the extent to which variations in telomere length and loss rate are useful indicators of aging-related changes and/or the biological state of individuals.
© 2010 New York Academy of Sciences.