Aging is the process of growing older and represents the accumulation of changes in a person over time. This process has often intrigued scientists from across the globe. Now it is the Duke University researchers who are trying to obtain clues to aging from long-lived lemurs. The conventional wisdom in longevity research is that smaller species live shorter lives than the larger species. However, the researchers found an exception to this pattern in a group of hamster-sized lemurs. With a physiological quirk, these lemurs are able to put their bodies in standby mode, thus increasing their longevity.
When Jonas the lemur died in January 2015, just five months short of his thirtieth birthday, he was the oldest of his kind. Jonas belonged to a long-lived clan, and dwarf lemurs are known to live two to three times longer than similar-sized animals. Researchers combed through more than 50 years of medical records on hundreds of dwarf lemurs and three other lemur species at the Duke Lemur Center for clues to their exceptional longevity.
The data revealed that how long the lemurs live and how fast they age correlates with the amount of time they spend in a state of suspended animation known as torpor. Hibernating lemurs live up to 10 years longer than their non-hibernating cousins. Sarah Zehr, study co-author, said, "Dwarf lemurs like Jonas go into a semi-hibernation state for three months or less in captivity, but even that seems to confer added longevity. Hibernating dwarf lemurs can reduce their heart rate from 200 to eight beats per minute. Breathing slows, and the animals' internal thermostat shuts down. Instead of maintaining a steady body temperature, they warm up and cool down with the outside air."
Marina Blanco, study co-author, said, "It may also be that torpor increases longevity by protecting cells against the buildup of oxidative damage that is a normal by-product of breathing and metabolism. If your body is not working full time metabolically-speaking, you will age more slowly and live longer. Because lemurs are more closely related to humans than mice are, the research may eventually help scientists identify anti-aging genes in humans."