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New study from MSU researchers provides insight into aging process of reptiles and amphibians

6 small painted turtles sitting on top of each other on a rock near a body of water

A new study done by MSU researchers, among other university teams, focuses on better understanding how reptiles and amphibians age.

The scientists wanted to know why animals like turtles, salamanders and crocodilians (an order that includes crocodiles, alligators and caimans) have extended lifespans despite their size.

MSU professor Anne Bronikowski said the study began with a small group of turtles and grew bigger overtime to different species of cold-blooded animals.

In the study, they found turtles don’t age demographically, meaning their risk of dying doesn’t increase as they age.

“Every group had at least one species that did not have increasing risk of mortality from internal sources as they grew older,” she said.

Learning how these animals age can help us learn more about human aging and conservation biology.

“Part of the model is understanding what species might be good models for understanding human aging,” she said. “So, understanding whether old animals age faster or slower in different species or different populations could have direct implications for how we manage those risks of extinction.”

She says there are particular insights from this research that could have an impact on geriatric medicine.

“A large fraction of medical spending in this country increases with increasing age,” she said.

Bronikowski says her lab is working with certain proteins in the animals' DNA that might paint a clearer picture of how they age slowly.

“We documented the population pattern, the demographic pattern, so now we can delve into some of these species to understand the mechanisms,” she said.

Genevieve's story is brought to you as part of a partnership between WKAR and Michigan State University's Knight Center for Environmental Journalism.

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