Research:Young birds reveal clues to their future life span

By Wynne Parry Senior writer

The signs of aging show up in our genes as the protective caps on the ends of packets of our DNA, called chromosomes, gradually wear away over time.

Now, scientists have found that the length of these caps, called telomeres, measured early in life, can predict life span.

Using 99 zebra finches, a small bird also popular as a pet, a team of researchers in the United Kingdom measured the lengths of the telomeres found in the birds’ red blood cells over the course of their lives.

They found that the length of the telomeres at the first measurement, made 25 days after the birds hatched, was the strongest predictor of how long the birds actually lived.

In addition, the birds with the longest telomeres early in life, and throughout the study, were the ones most likely to live into old age, up to 8.7 years old — a “ripe old age” for a finch, said study researcher Britt Heidinger, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Glasgow.

Read the full article at MSNBC News.com: website

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