Publication Details

Ujvari, B. & Madsen, T. (2009). Short telomeres in hatchling snakes: erythrocyte telomere dynamics and longevity in tropical pythons. PLoS One, 4 (10), 1-5.


Background: Telomere length (TL) has been found to be associated with life span in birds and humans. However, other studies have demonstrated that TL does not affect survival among old humans. Furthermore, replicative senescence has been shown to be induced by changes in the protected status of the telomeres rather than the loss of TL. In the present study we explore whether age- and sex-specific telomere dynamics affect life span in a long-lived snake, the water python (Liasis fuscus). Methodology/Principal Findings: Erythrocyte TL was measured using the Telo TAGGG TL Assay Kit (Roche). In contrast to other vertebrates, TL of hatchling pythons was significantly shorter than that of older snakes. However, during their first year of life hatchling TL increased substantially. While TL of older snakes decreased with age, we did not observe any correlation between TL and age in cross-sectional sampling. In older snakes, female TL was longer than that of males. When using recapture as a proxy for survival, our results do not support that longer telomeres resulted in an increased water python survival/longevity. Conclusions/Significance: In fish high telomerase activity has been observed in somatic cells exhibiting high proliferation rates. Hatchling pythons show similar high somatic cell proliferation rates. Thus, the increase in TL of this group may have been caused by increased telomerase activity. In older humans female TL is longer than that of males. This has been suggested to be caused by high estrogen levels that stimulate increased telomerase activity. Thus, high estrogen levels may also have caused the longer telomeres in female pythons. The lack of correlation between TL and age among old snakes and the fact that longer telomeres did not appear to affect python survival do not support that erythrocyte telomere dynamics has a major impact on water python longevity.



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