Researchers found that parental age can affect offspring lifespan. Children produced by older parents often have shorter lifespans compared to children produced by younger parents.
The study found that the age of the parents affects the child's telomeres, the proteins found at the tip of chromosomes. These telomeres act like the clear tips found at the end of shoelaces: they "cap off" and protect the DNA. They also protect the DNA code loss during cell division.
"Telomere loss reduces the lifespan of cells and is thought to be involved in the ageing process," said Britt Heidinger from the North Dakota State University. Heidinger is a biological sciences assistant professor and a member of the research team.
Longer lifespans were observed in individuals with longer telomeres or among those with slower telomere loss. The finding is universal across a wide range of species.
The research team analyzed a population of free-living European shags (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) breeding in Scotland's Isle of May National Nature Reserve. The seabirds live long - some even reach 22 years. The shag population in this location has been monitored for over 30 years, so the researchers focused on the nests where at least one parent is currently identified.
Tiny blood samples were taken from the chicks identified. The team then measured the offspring's telomere length. Freshly hatched, the researchers found that the parents' age had no effects on the chick's telomere length.
However, the researchers found that chicks produced by older parents have higher rates of telomere loss. The loss seemed to happen post-natal, which means it took place during the nestling period. Findings also showed that the effect of the mother's age is greater than that of the father.
The team previously discovered that shag chicks that suffer high stress levels during development experience higher telomere loss.
"These results could have occurred because older parents do not provide as much parental care as younger parents, or because parents that put less effort into raising their chicks live to be older," added Heidinger. The findings were released in the journal Functional Ecology on Jan. 14.
In a 2015 study, researchers discovered a link between taller people and shorter lifespans. They found that as the body grows in size, the cells divide even more. This results in the faster telomere loss, resulting in poor tissue and cell function.
Photo: Valentina Yachichurova | Flickr