Telomeres and Longevity

The North Dakota State department of biological sciences hosted a seminar with Britt Heidinger, an assistant professor in the department.

Heidinger talked about the connection that telomeres may have between longevity, life-history trade-offs and life-experience. Another way of saying this is how telomeres are connected to how long a person experiences stress. Telomeres, which are located at ends of eukaryote chromosomes, are thought to play a role in cells breaking down as age increases.

The presentation began with Heidinger showing two pictures: one showing young individuals and the other depicting an older version of themselves.

She pointed out the several universal features that might appear in aging individuals. According to Heidinger, these features are also found in different animals.

What Heidinger wanted people to take from her presentation is that telomeres might be a mechanism that might be related to longevity. They may also be a biomarker of stress exposure.

Heidinger said she believes that by understanding how stress affects telomeres, it might give us a better idea of how certain life experiences might affect longevity.

According to Heidinger, it’s important to humans because stressors experienced by children may affect people later in life. Heidinger continued talking about how the long-term negative effects can be intervened or their outcome changed by figuring out why certain individuals are resilient after stress exposure.

She also spoke from an animal perspective on how stressors from the environment can influence how animals function. Heidinger said figuring out how stress affects telomeres might be used as a way to measure the long-term effects of stress. There might also be chances of being able to intervene with these stressors.

Among all of her researchers, one thing Heidinger was interested or surprised by was the fact that early life conditions and environment might have a long-term effect on longevity.

Using a graph that showed data collected during a study on finches, Heidinger explained that when the finches were young, the telomeres predicated how long they would live. That is why she believes it could be something about what their early life conditions that might have a dramatic effect.

Heidinger said she had a lot of fun researching and was blessed with great students. In the future, Heidinger is hoping to focus on trying to understand what the consequences of stress experienced are for their offspring.

“If parents are stressed, how does that impact offspring? If the offspring is stressed, does that interact with what happened to the parents?” Heidinger questioned.

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