The secret of a long life is written in the telomeres: a Spanish team discovers why some species live longer than others

Why a human being can live 90 years and a fruit fly only 15 days? Why is a mouse a carcamal at two years old and an elephant easily reaches 60? The secret seems to be in the telomeres. Yes, in telomeres, those highly repetitive regions of DNA that are located at the ends of chromosomes and whose main function is to give them structural stability. They are, so to speak, like the studs (the plastic tips of the laces) that prevent them from fraying.

A group of Spanish scientists from the National Cancer Research Center (CNIO) have discovered that "the rate of telomere shortening is a powerful predictor of the life span of species", perhaps the best we have. Further proof of the crucial role that telomeres have in the scientific fight against death.

Fast telomeres

Goats, dolphins, seagulls, reindeer, vultures, flamingos, elephants, mice and humans. No, it is not the list of crew of Noah's Ark, but the list of species that have been analyzed by CNIO researchers led by one of the greatest international experts in the matter, María Blasco. For years, the question of why some species died early and others were extremely long-lived has puzzled scientists.

Researchers have discovered a very clear relationship between the life of the species and the speed at which their telomeres shorten. So much so that thanks to the model the longevity of the species can be accurately predicted just by studying the shortening rate. And it does it much better than other previous indicators such as body size or heart rate.

For example, in work published in PNAS, researchers note that mice (which have a life expectancy of two years) lose 7,000 pairs of telomeric units per year. Meanwhile in a human being (who can live up to 90 years) the speed of loss is 100 times less.

As Blasco explains, they have "found a universal pattern, a phenomenon in biology that explains the life span of species, and that deserves more research." Above all, because "these results support the idea that the critical shortening of telomeres and the subsequent appearance of damage to telomeric DNA and cellular senescence is a determining factor in the duration of life."

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