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Long telomeres are associated with clonality in wild populations of the fissiparous starfish Coscinasterias tenuispina.

Authors: A A. Garcia-Cisneros, R R. Pérez-Portela, B C BC. Almroth, S S. Degerman, C C. Palacín, H Nilsson HN. Sköld
Published: 05/20/2015, Heredity


Telomeres usually shorten during an organism's lifespan and have thus been used as an aging and health marker. When telomeres become sufficiently short, senescence is induced. The most common method of restoring telomere length is via telomerase reverse transcriptase activity, highly expressed during embryogenesis. However, although asexual reproduction from adult tissues has an important role in the life cycles of certain species, its effect on the aging and fitness of wild populations, as well as its implications for the long-term survival of populations with limited genetic variation, is largely unknown. Here we compare relative telomere length of 58 individuals from four populations of the asexually reproducing starfish Coscinasterias tenuispina. Additionally, 12 individuals were used to compare telomere lengths in regenerating and non-regenerating arms, in two different tissues (tube feet and pyloric cecum). The level of clonality was assessed by genotyping the populations based on 12 specific microsatellite loci and relative telomere length was measured via quantitative PCR. The results revealed significantly longer telomeres in Mediterranean populations than Atlantic ones as demonstrated by the Kruskal-Wallis test (K=24.17, significant value: P-value<0.001), with the former also characterized by higher levels of clonality derived from asexual reproduction. Telomeres were furthermore significantly longer in regenerating arms than in non-regenerating arms within individuals (pyloric cecum tissue: Mann-Whitney test, V=299, P-value<10(-6); and tube feet tissue Student's t=2.28, P-value=0.029). Our study suggests that one of the mechanisms responsible for the long-term somatic maintenance and persistence of clonal populations is telomere elongation.

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