WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, AYACOP
At least in zebra finches, telomere length really can predict lifespan—a long suspected link for which scientists have identified little evidence—according to a study published Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It’s well-known that telomeres protect chromosome ends, preventing the unraveling of a cell’s DNA, suggesting that longer telomeres could guard cells against aging. But strong data, especially in humans, have been lacking, Nature reported. Also, studies tended to rely on one or two samples of telomere length—snapshots which didn’t say much about a whole lifetime.
Now, by measuring telomere length over the course of the birds’ lives, scientists at the University of Glasgow and the University of Exeter revealed a tight correlation between telomere length and longevity. They were even able to pinpoint at what age telomeres are most predictive: 25 days old, roughly the zebra finch equivalent of human adolescence.