From: Tamera Jones, Planet Earth Online
Published December 14, 2010 08:09 AM

Birds' lifespans are written in blood

How long a Southern Giant Petrel is likely to live comes down to the length of a particular sequence of DNA in their blood cells, researchers have found.

If these sequences of DNA are long, a giant petrel probably still has a while left before it has to leave this mortal coil. But if they're short, the birds might not have long to go.

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In this latest study, published in Behavioral Ecology, scientists found that these sequences of DNA are longer in chicks than in adults.

There's an added burden if you're a male giant petrel. The researchers discovered that male giant petrels have shorter sequences of DNA — called telomeres — than females. This could mean that males may be more prone to die sooner than females. But the team behind the study cannot yet confirm this.

'Here we have a marker which shows where these birds are on their journey through life,' says Professor Pat Monaghan from the University of Glasgow, co-author of the paper.

Telomeres are protective caps at the ends of chromosomes, found in all sorts of creatures like rats, elephants and people. Each time a cell divides, its telomeres get shorter, so that eventually the telomere doesn't work anymore, and the cell either dies or loses the ability to divide.

Article continues: http://planetearth.nerc.ac.uk/news/story.aspx?id=892

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