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Molecular biomarkers for seabird age estimation

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Most seabirds do not have any outward identifiers of their chronological age, so estimation of seabird population age structure generally requires expensive, long-term banding studies. We investigated the potential to use a molecular age biomarker to estimate age in short-tailed shearwaters (Ardenna tenuirostris). We quantified DNA methylation in several A. tenuirostris genes that have shown age-related methylation changes in mammals. In birds ranging from chicks to 21 years of age, bisulphite treated blood and feather DNA was sequenced and methylation levels analysed in 67 CpG sites in 13 target gene regions. From blood samples, five of the top relationships with age were identified in KCNC3 loci (CpG66: R2 = 0.325, p = 0.019). In feather samples ELOVL2 (CpG42: R2 = 0.285, p = 0.00048) and EDARADD (CpG46: R2 = 0.168, p = 0.0067) were also weakly correlated with age. However, the majority of markers had no clear association with age (of 131 comparisons only 12 had a p-value < 0.05) and statistical analysis using a penalised lasso approach did not produce an accurate ageing model. Our data indicate that some age-related signatures identified in orthologous mammalian genes are not conserved in seabirds. Alternative molecular approaches will be required to identify a reliable biomarker of chronological age in these animals.

This talk is part of the British Antarctic Survey series.

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