Human beings often face many health challenges in old age, but new research can give insight about staying healthy in old age. Researchers at the University College Dublin have conducted a study with the aim of investigating why bats live longer compared to other mammals. How do these bats slow down ageing?
The researchers hope to use their study in the long term to help create knowledge about how humans too can slow down the ageing process. If ever this can be possible, human life can be extended since people will be capable of living healthy lifestyles despite old age. The scientists back their claim from the findings of their study involving bats.
Naturally, the health conditions of senior people significantly differ from individuals who are still young. As age takes a toll on human life, individual cells within the body eventually die, and the health of that person also deteriorates. Ultimately, death visits older people since their bodies cannot continue renewing themselves like people who are still young.
How Bats Defy Old Age
A scientific study conducted by Irish researchers and partners from other countries shows that bats have unique genetic differences that help them act against the effects of ageing. The study focused on telomeres, which are the protective structures of DNA at the end of chromosomes. These structures shorten with age in humans and other animals.
As the human or animal body gets old, the cells tend to break down leading to deterioration of the tissue. As time moves, the body will eventually succumb to death since all the cells and tissue will die slowly. When this process begins in old age, it cannot be reversed in the majority of mammal species including human beings.
No amount of quality medical care can reverse the shortening of telomeres in human beings. Unless some form of genetic modification has been performed, the life in different types of mammals cannot exceed a specified period. While the total number of years humans can live is not definite, they reach the dead end no matter what quality of health care.
The secret behind telomeres is that as they become shorter due to age, cells within our human bodies become old too. Such a scenario means that there is no longer any development of new cells that can help the body fight different infections. As a result, the tissue in various organs of the body dies leading to ultimate death.
Sample Size And Methodology Of The Study
In this particular study, the researchers found that bats attain the longevity of their life without getting cancer. The study included 500 bats captured from four different species, blood samples and wing biopsies were collected as samples for further tests.
After collection of the samples for the study, the bats were marked then released. The samples were then frozen in nitrogen liquid, or in some instances were dried using beads from silica. The process was to ensure safe extraction of DNA to enhance assessment of the changes in the lifespan of the telomere.
Interestingly, the study found that the telomeres of longest-lived bats remain long in their lifespan. Like most mammals, the telomeres in the other two types of species of bats involved in the study were found to shorten with age. To a more significant extent, the study found some form of link between long life and the telomeres of the specific types of bats.
The study has identified a specific critical genetic difference in bats that makes them able to counter the impacts of ageing. Other mammal species use an enzyme that is called telomerase to reverse the damage to telomere due to old age. Surprisingly, none of this form of the protein was found in the bats.
The researchers further suspect that the bats have their way of lengthening their telomeres without causing cancer which is a common result of such a process. Genetic mutation of that nature usually results in the development of cells that lead to disease.
The reasons why bats do not contract cancer like other mammals, however, remain unknown up to this period. To a more considerable extent, bats are resilient to other diseases that generally affect certain mammals as a result of their genetic evolution. A further probe of this unique scientific nature can go a long way in promoting long and healthy lives among human beings in particular.
To gain more insight about why bats do not develop cancer, the researchers conducted further examination of the genetic code that underpins the maintenance of telomeres. They did this by comparing the whole set of genes or genomes of bats to those of 52 other mammals. Small as it is, a bat also has the equivalent number of genes responsible for telomeres maintenance like any other mammal.
The results indicate that out of 225 genes known to have an association with telomeres, two genes namely ATM and SETX are resilient. These two unique genes are not found in other mammals. According to the study, bats owe their longevity of life to these two genes that are responsible for resisting the effects of old age on body cells.
The long-lived bats have evolved with time mechanisms that prevent as well as repair cellular damage caused by age. In other words, the prevention of cellular damage due to old age is responsible for long life among specific bats. The question then is: How can resilient genes be developed in human bodies?
Myotis is the longest living species of bats, and the researchers did not find any evidence to suggest that their telomeres shorten with age. In other words, the lifespan of this kind of species of the bat does not shorten meaning that it can live for very long periods of time.
Bats are small mammals with critical features that make them unique such as having a very long lifespan despite being very small. For instance, the longest-lived bats have an average lifespan of about 37 years. Considering the size of bats, this lifespan is too long, and it has an equivalence of nearly 234 years of human life.
The body of a human being is by far more significant than a bat and assuming that these two share similar chromosomes, then people can live longer. However, typical of all mammals including human beings, other two species of bats that were involved in the study showed that their telomeres shorten with age. These species have a shorter lifespan compared to the bats that live longer.
The study notes that the bats have a unique process of evolution that lengthens the lifespan of their chromosomes so that they remain young. The method also helps to keep cancer at bay thereby ensuring long life. Different forms of diseases affect humans, and these are leading causes of death.
The separation of cancer and extended life of telomeres in human beings can help in the design of intervention strategies to slow down the ageing process. If the genetic mechanism that contributes to the long lifespan of bats successfully applies to human beings, they too can live longer. The only trick is to find a method of extending the telomeres so that they do not shorten with age.
Source: BBC Earth Lab
Scope And Significance Of The Study
To support the authenticity of the findings, this particular research about bats took 20 years to conduct. Few studies can extend to this great length of time, and further research can help generate new insight about the life of bats. As such, further studies can also help to create knowledge about how the genetic mechanism of bats can be adopted in human life.
While some people live up to about 115 years, the study about bats has generated interest in how humans can enjoy a healthy lifestyle in old age. Despite its smaller size, a bat can live for a more extended period. There is general agreement among the researchers that human beings too can extend their lifespan if the same biological mechanism in bats is applied to their lives.
The European Research Council funded the study that also involved biologists from France, Portugal, UK and Germany. The research is significant in that it aims at creating an understanding of the factors that contribute to a long life to some species of mammals particularly bats.
Can the same science of extended lifespan in bats be applied successfully to human life?
The researchers anticipate that the same genetic mechanism can be applied to human beings to extend their health in old age. Bats share quite many similarities with human beings, and this can help unlock the secret behind their long life. The only significant difference between bats and other species is that they are tiny creatures.
While there are numerous types of mammal species, biologically, these animals somehow share similar traits. The aspect of the longevity of the life of bats can also be applied to other species particularly human beings through modification of chromosomes to resist the effects of age.
The chromosomes carry genes that help in determining the traits that characterise different mammals. For example, these characteristics define the lifespan of various mammals. The research found that the bats are capable of preventing and repairing cell damage thereby leading to their extended lives.
It is hoped that the same molecular mechanism can help in extending the human health spans since they also have similar traits with bats. As the research notes, all mammal species possess identical characteristics and these have a bearing on their lives. However, as some animals live longer than others and this is what the study sought to establish.
Understanding the aspect of ageing is a great challenge in biology. The life spans of different animals significantly differ even though they belong to the same mammal category. This can be attributed to genetic mechanisms that help in preventing the cells from damage.
Bats are the only mammal species capable of flying, and they can operate at equally high speeds of about 99 miles per hour. These species are also able to reach very high altitudes like the bald eagle. These small creatures are capable of hibernating during winter, something that other mammals cannot do.
Bats share some similarities with human beings in that their wings are made of the same bones that are found in people. The bones are covered with a thin layer of skin, and the bats also flap these individually to propel themselves. On the other hand, a bird flaps the entire wing to move which marks the difference from a bat.
The other exciting thing about bats is that they have successfully adapted to live around human populations. In many urban areas, bats live in close proximity to human beings. The bats have features that make them live safely in areas where human beings live.
Bats are unique in that they are resistant to many diseases that affect human beings such as SARS, Nipah and Ebola. This makes the bats reservoirs of various diseases that are dangerous to human life. For instance, bats are believed to be reservoirs for rabies and this particular type of illness is not good for human life. Such kinds of diseases do not affect the bats, but they live longer.
However, human behaviour is responsible for the diseases that are spread by the bats. All the same, bats are equally good in preserving the ecosystem. These are some of the facts that make bats unique creatures and worth studying.
There is a need for further research to generate insight about how bats live longer life spans despite being small creatures. According to this Irish study, bats have developed genetic mechanisms that prevent them from ageing. At the same time, the bats are capable of repairing cell damage such that they can live longer.
Since bats are human beings share a lot of similarities, the same scientific mechanism can also be extended to human beings. This can lead to improved health in old age as well as extended lifespan.