Durham, North Carolina – Some men have it all: muscle, strength, high social standing, and accelerated aging.
But wait. Aging faster? Who wants that? For male baboons, this is the price they pay to be on top.
New research appears on April 6 in eLife Written by Jenny Tong, Associate Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology and Biology at Duke University, and colleagues show that male baboons climb the social ladder faster than males of lower social standing. If a man’s marital status deteriorates, his rate of advancement in estimated age also decreases.
Using blood samples from 245 wild monkeys in the Amboseli ecosystem in Kenya, the team analyzed chemical modifications to DNA known as markers of DNA methylation.
“These signs change with age, in a way that feels like a clock,” said Tong. “However, environmental pressures can make the clock faster.” This makes an individual appear older than they really are, and research in humans indicates that it could put them at a greater risk of developing diseases associated with aging.
Since this group of baboons is one of the most extensively studied groups of land mammals in the world, researchers already know not only the age of each baboon, but also the environment in which they arose, their exposure to early life’s tribulations, and a lot of information. About their adult environment, especially aspects that foretell their longevity and number of offspring they have left behind.
“We used DNA methylation to compare known baboon ages to their“ biological ages. ”These methylation markers were found across the genome, so the team first needed to measure a large number of these Locations – about 400,000 of them – and then, through statistical methods and models, reduce the number of sites to about 500 sites for a better life expectancy.
Interestingly, for males, the adversities early in life did not affect the speed of their biological clocks.
The social status of adults was the strongest factor affecting aging. “A male baboon who is successfully competing for high social standing seems to grow up faster,” said Tong. “We have sampled some of these males repeatedly and were able to show that the clock can accelerate or slow down as the males move up or down the social ladder.
This is contrary to what we see in humans. Usually, high social status in humans predicts better health, not worse. The wealthiest and most powerful people have access to and can afford the best homes, schools, healthcare, and more. Those who live in poverty and have low socioeconomic status are at increased risk and have higher rates of disease, cancer, and deaths of all causes.
However, male baboons have to struggle for their social status. For this reason, it is common to see competition between males and females on a regular basis, with baboon watchers seeing a clear winner and a clear loser.
To maintain their social status, the males on top have to stick to their position and defend themselves physically. For this reason, male baboons on top tend to have more muscle mass and better body condition than lower-ranked baboons. But as their body begins to shrink with age, new, younger and stronger males may overtake them to take first place.
High-ranking males also spend a lot of time guarding females. Around ovulation, they follow females closely and repel other males. Partner guarding restricts other male activities, and Tung and her team believe it is likely to be too costly – perhaps helping explain the outcome of accelerated aging.
So why do these evils work so hard to achieve a very tense social situation? It’s simple: you have offspring.
“If male baboons are to have children, they should achieve a high rank,” said Tong. “They will have very little chance of leaving offspring if they do not achieve a high ranking, which creates a strong evolutionary drive.”
This study sheds light on one of the ways in which the social environment can affect aging. “Our research shows that the way in which a social position is reached and maintained is critical to understanding its consequences,” said Tung.
This research was supported by the US National Science Foundation, the US National Institutes of Health, the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, the North Carolina Center for Biotechnology, and the Center for Population Health and Aging. (2018264636, IOS1456832, R01AG053308, R01AG053330, R01HD088558, P01AG031719, F32HD095616, 2016-IDG-1013, P30AG034424)
Quote: “Males of high social standing suffer from accelerated genetic aging in wild baboons,” Jordan A. Anderson, Rachel A. Johnston, Amanda J. Elizabeth A. Archie, Jenny Tong. eLifeApril 6, 2021. DOI: 10.7554 / eLife.66128
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