Telomere Research on Social Status in Hyenas

Telomere Research on Social Status in Hyenas

Ever wonder what a human has in common with a hyena?  Well, researchers say telomeres!

“Researchers studying spotted hyenas in Kenya found that high-ranking members of a clan live longer, are healthier and even have more offspring.

The discovery was made by analysing the lengths of telomeres – caps at the end of each strand of DNA – regarded as important signs of ageing and stress in many species, including humans.

Nora Lewin from Michigan State University’s zoology department worked with fellow lead author and MSU zoologist Kay Holekamp to study more than 25 years of data on hyenas across the African country.

High-ranking hyenas had longer telomeres than their peers suggesting they were healthier.

Group membership significantly predicted telomere length of those female hyenas that sat at the top of the social hierarchy.

But Ms Lewin also noted a couple of interesting twists:  the alpha females of each clan had the longest telomeres.
However, the length was relative to each individual clan. This meant that if researchers found a lone hyena wandering the savanna they couldn’t simply identify it as an alpha female based solely on telomere length.
Also the team was able to rule other factors that could possibly influence telomere length such as abundance of food – which could be linked to better overall health.

‘We think it’s less about genetics and more influenced by the environment, but we just need to keep searching for the right environmental factors,’ said Ms. Lewin.” -