Researchers here find that the longest lived bats have unusual telomere biochemistry, and in fact unusual enough that the new knowledge may turn out to be of little relevance to the understanding of telomeres, telomerase, and aging in other mammals. It appears that they rely upon alternative lengthening of telomeres (ALT) to maintain telomere length, a process that doesn’t operate in any normal adult human cell. Given that loss of telomere length appears to be a marker of aging rather than a cause, and a fairly loosely coupled marker at that, the real relevance of this area of biochemistry probably lies in the relationship between telomerase and important cellular activities, such as ability and willingness of somatic cells to replicate, or stem cells to support tissue function.
Bats exhibit cellular biochemistry that is somewhat different from that of ground-based species in a number of other ways. The metabolic demands of flight have led to, for example, greater resilience to stress and damage arising from the normal operation of cellular metabolism. When charting life span against metabolic rate, where high metabolic rates usually imply short life spans, some small bat species
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