Telomeres function like the plastic caps at the end of shoelaces. They cap the end of chromosomes and protect the coding DNA by shortening during every cell division. When they reach a critically short length, the cell stops dividing and dies. Telomeres are often used as a marker of ageing and different environmental conditions in ecology and evolution. Blood is commonly used to measure telomeres but is not always representative of all tissues and can be difficult to obtain from smaller animals, such as bats. We measured telomere length across different tissues in the Egyptian fruit bat to see if wing tissue biopsies, a quick and relatively non-invasive method of collecting tissue for bat DNA studies, could be used for measuring telomere length in bats. We found that wing telomeres correlated with most tissues. Wing telomere length measured from multiple samples taken from the same individual were highly repeatable. Even with training, taking blood from bats can be extremely difficult, while wing tissue biopsies with the required training are a faster and more straightforward method. Our findings provide robust support for the use of wing tissue in bat telomere studies as an alternate to otherwise harder to obtain tissues.
This summary was written by lead author Megan Power. Read the paper here.