Senescence is an interesting and complex phenomenon. The mechanisms guiding the evolution and persistence of senescence exist for a variety of reasons, most of which are still poorly understood. Lifespan between individuals can change widely within a species, suggesting possible genetic and environmental implications.
Telomeres are tandem repeats of G-rich DNA sequences that form the distinctive and functional caps that protect the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes. Telomere dynamics refers to either the elongation or the shortening of the telomeric DNA. Shortening of telomeric DNA occurs mostly from the “end replication problem” but mostly through damage caused by oxidative stress. Elongation of the telomeres is possible with the help of a ribonucleoprotein enzyme, telomerase, which synthesizes the telomeric DNA.
I will be investigating, mainly on the cellular level, how oxidative damage directly affects telomere dynamics in a long-lived bird species, Alpine Swift (Apus melba). Using the free-living Alpine Swifts as my main study system, I will be testing the consequences of early growth conditions and adult life-style on telomere dynamics and, ultimately, life expectancy. I am also interested in testing any possible co-variations between the age of individuals, oxidative stress levels, telomerase activity, and telomere dynamics. I aim to decipher some possible connections between telomere dynamics, reproductive success, and life expectancy.