A new study released Tuesday finds that predicting longevity may be related to a series of signs early in life.
Scientists studying zebra finches say they have found the best indicator of longevity came from examining a piece of DNA called a telomere when the birds were 25 days old. The team noted that the results could possibly be extended to other creatures, including humans.
“Our study shows the great importance of processes acting early in life. We now need to know more about how early life conditions can influence the pattern of telomere loss, and the relative importance of inherited and environmental factors. This is the main focus of our current research,” said team leader Pat Monaghan, Ph.D., from the University of Glasgow.
The finches used in the study typically live from one to nine years, and those with the longest telomeres tended to live the longest. The research team said they explained the telomeres found in the birds’ red blood cells over the course of their lives. Scientists said recording the length of the telomeres at the first measurement, made 25 days after birth, were directly correlated to how long the birds survived. The birds with the longest telomeres early in life, and throughout the study, were the ones most likely to live into old age, while birds with shorter telomeres died earlier.
The study is the first in which telomere length has been measured in the same individuals from early life and then repeatedly during the rest of their natural lives, said researchers.
The research could usher in a new age of genetic research, where patients seek to identify future outcomes depending on genetic sequences. Currently, comparable studies in people that would allow us to say at what life stage telomere length best predicts lifespan do not exist. The latest study may serve as a blueprint for scientists seeking to better predict longevity in humans.
Still, Mr. Monaghan cautioned against any assumption that the study was a crystal ball of sorts.
“It’s not going to be possible to translate this immediately to the human situation, in which you have a long-lived species with a heterogeneous environment,” said Mr. Monaghan in an interview with Nature. “That”s quite different.”
The results of the research have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.