Ageing

 
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AGEING: EVOLUTION & MECHANISM

EVOLUTION & MECHANISMS OF AGEING IN NATURAL POPULATIONS
  Long-term field studies   |  Comparative studies  |  Experimental evolution
 

Progressive age-related declines in reproductive success and survival, termed ageing or senescence, have been documented across a wide range of species, from birds to bacteria. Evolutionary biologists are seeking to understand the origins of the marked diversity in ageing trajectories among individuals and across taxa, while biomedical researchers seek to elucidate the mechanisms that underpin ageing, with a view to identifying tractable interventions that may prolong human healthspan.

We take an integrative approach, asking both evolutionary and mechanistic questions using longitudinal studies
of natural vertebrate populations, comparative studies across taxa, and experimental evolution work on microbes.

SOCIAL EFFECTS ON AGEING

We are particularly interested in the impacts of cooperative behaviour, parental effects and reproductive conflict on the evolution and development of ageing trajectories.

MECHANISMS OF AGEING

And we investigate the mechanisms that underpin the progressive declines in somatic integrity that yield ageing, with a particular interest in the roles of telomeres and cellular senescence.

EVOLUTION OF AGEING

We also study the evolutionary origin of ageing via experimental evolutionary studies of social microbes, and the evolution of ageing trajectories using comparative studies of vertebrates.

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RECENT HIGHLIGHTS

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Wood E & Young AJ (2019)
Telomere attrition predicts reduced survival in a wild social bird, but short telomeres do not
Molecular Ecology

Łapińska U, Glover G, Capilla-Lasheras P, *Young AJ, *Pagliara S. (2019)
Bacterial ageing in the absence of external stressors
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society

Young (2018)
The role of telomeres in the mechanisms and evolution of life-history trade-offs and ageing
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B

Beirne, Waring, McDonald, Delahay & Young (2016)
Age-related declines in immune response in a wild mammal are unrelated to immune cell telomere length
Proceedings of the Royal Society B


Beirne, Delahay & Young (2015)
Sex differences in senescence: the role of intra-sexual competition in early adulthood
Proceedings of the Royal Society B

Cram, Blount & Young (2015)
The oxidative costs of reproduction are group-size dependent in a wild cooperative breeder
Proceedings of the Royal Society B

Cram, Blount & Young (2015)
Oxidative status and social dominance in a wild cooperative breeder
Functional Ecology


MODEL SYSTEMS:

THE SPARROW WEAVER PROJECT

40 SOCIAL GROUPS | LIFELONG PHENOTYPING | TELOMERE BIOLOGY | GENOMIC TOOLS | GENETIC PEDIGREE

My group run a long-term longitudinal field study of this extraordinary social bird in the South African Kalahari desert.
We follow all group members throughout their lives, from egg to adulthood and through to senescence. We now have over
a decade of continuous life-history, genetic, and social behavioural data for >1700 individuals rearing >900 clutches.

They are the naked mole-rats of the bird world: >80% of adult sparrow weavers never breed, but engage instead in
life-long helping of their parents. And they have similarly striking ageing biology; living long lives (>12 years) in which
the social environment shapes their rates of somatic deterioration.

We use a range of molecular tools to investigate the mechanisms of ageing in this natural population,
and the causes of individual variation in rates of somatic decline.
We have a particular interest
in the impacts of social behaviour on somatic deterioration during the lifespan,
and the evolution of somatic maintenance and ageing over much longer timescales.

 

EUROPEAN BADGERS

In collaboration with the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), we use their unique and ongoing 40 year longitudinal field study of the ecology and epidemiology of 40 social groups of European badgers in the UK, to ask questions about the evolution and mechanisms of ageing in a natural population of social mammals.

SOCIAL MICROBES

We have also recently begun to use microfluidic devices to study ageing in unicellular organisms. This approach allows us to longitudinally track the replicative histories of individual cells and their daughters, and to use experimental evolution and unrivalled molecular tools to test key hypotheses about the evolutionary origin of ageing.

AND BEYOND…

We are also engaged in collaborative research on ageing in a range of other organisms, including studies of ageing in social insects and race-horses, and comparative studies across taxa testing key hypotheses about the ecological drivers of variation in senescence trajectories.