Accurate aging of wild animals thanks to the first bat epigenetic clock

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A study conducted by UMD found age-related changes in bat DNA linked to longevity. Clockwise from top left: common vampire bat (G. Wilkinson), large horseshoe bat, Rhinolophus ferrumequinum (G. Jones), free-tailed bat velvety, bat (S. Puechmaille) and large eared mouse (M. Tschapka). All of them can live 30 years or more, with the exception of the larger mouse ear, which only lives up to 6 years. Credit: G. Wilkinson, G. Jones, S. Puechmaille, M. Tschapka

A new study by researchers at the University of Maryland and UCLA has found that DNA from tissue samples can be used to accurately predict the age of bats in the wild. The study also showed that age-related DNA changes in long-lived species are different from those in short-lived species, especially in regions of the genome close to genes associated with cancer and cancer. immunity. This work provides new information on the causes of age-related declines.

This is the first research document to show that animals in nature can be aged with precision using an epigenetic clock, which predicts age based on specific changes in DNA. This work provides a new tool for biologists who study animals in the wild. Additionally, the results provide insight into the possible mechanisms behind the exceptional longevity of many bat species. The study appears in the March 12, 2021 issue of the journal Natural communications.

“We were hoping that these epigenetic changes would be predictive of age,” said Gerald Wilkinson, professor of biology at UMD and co-lead author of the article. “But now we have the data to show that instead of having to follow animals throughout their lives to be sure of their age, you can just go out and take a small sample of an individual in the wild. and being able to know his age, which allows us to ask all kinds of questions that we couldn’t before. “

The researchers examined the DNA of 712 bats of known age, representing 26 species, for changes in DNA methylation at sites in the genome known to be associated with aging. DNA methylation is a process that turns off genes. It occurs throughout development and is an important regulator for cells. Overall, methylation tends to decrease throughout the genome with age. Using machine learning to find patterns in the data, the researchers found they could estimate the age of a bat to be less than a year old based on methylation changes at 160 sites in the genome. The data also revealed that very long-lived bat species overall exhibit less methylation changes as they age than shorter-lived bats.

Wilkinson and his team then analyzed the genomes of four bat species – three long-lived and one short-lived – to identify specific genes present in regions of the genome where methylation differences linked to l age correlated with longevity. They found specific sites on the genome where methylation was more likely to increase than decrease with age in short-lived bats, but not in long-lived bats, and that these sites were located near 57 genes which mutate frequently in cancerous tumors and 195 genes involved in immunity.

“What’s really interesting is that the sites where we found methylation to increase with age in short-lived bats are close to genes that have been shown to be involved in tumorigenesis – cancer. – and the immune response, “Wilkinson said. “This suggests that there may be something to look at in these regions regarding the mechanisms responsible for longevity.”

Wilkinson said the methylation analysis can provide insight into many age-related differences between species and lead to a better understanding of the causes of age-related declines in many species.

“Bats live long lives, and yet their hearing doesn’t deteriorate with age like ours,” he said. “You can use this method to see if there are methylation differences associated with hearing. There are all kinds of questions like this we can ask now.”

The research paper, “DNA methylation predicts age and provides insight into exceptional longevity in bats,” was published in the March 12, 2021 issue of Nature Communication.


Genetic basis for extended lifespan and resistance to cancer discovered in long-lived bats


Provided by the University of Maryland

Quote: Accurate aging of wild animals using the first bat epigenetic clock (2021, March 12) retrieved October 5, 2021 from https://phys.org/news/2021-03-accurate-aging-wild-animals- epigenetic.html

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