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Keywords:

  • telomere;
  • aging;
  • social insects;
  • disposable soma;
  • telomerase;
  • senescence

Summary

Telomere length regulation is an important aspect of cell maintenance in eukaryotes, since shortened telomeres can lead to a number of defects, including impaired cell division. Although telomere length is correlated with lifespan in some bird species, its possible role in aging and lifespan determination is still poorly understood. Here we investigate telomere dynamics (changes in telomere length and attrition rate) and telomerase activity in the ant Lasius niger, a species in which different groups of individuals have evolved extraordinarily different lifespans. We found that somatic tissues of the short-lived males had dramatically shorter telomeres than those of the much longer-lived queens and workers. These differences were established early during larval development, most likely through faster telomere shortening in males compared with females. Workers did not, however, have shorter telomeres than the longer-lived queens. We discuss various molecular mechanisms that are likely to cause the observed sex-specific telomere dynamics in ants, including cell division, oxidative stress and telomerase activity. In addition, we discuss the evolutionary causes of such patterns in ants and in other species.