13 May Mild Infections Can Have Major Impact on Telomeres
A study at Lund University in Sweden on malaria-infected migratory birds found that mild infections without symptoms of illness still led to a reduction in the lifespan of the infected individuals. Previously, mild infections that did not produce symptoms were not thought to have had such a negative effect on the lifespan of an organism.
The present study shows that a mild malaria infection in birds causes the telomeres (the ends of the chromosomes) to shorten significantly faster in infected individuals than in the healthy individuals. As telomeres shorten, the cells ability to replicate reduces until eventually the telomeres become so short that the cell cannot replicate at all. When cells cannot reproduce, an organism starts to die.
Even though these birds showed no harmful symptoms of the actual malaria disease, the shortening of the telomeres caused by its presence reduced the birds´ lifespans.
“If this is a general mechanism for any type of mild, chronic infection, which is quite possible, it will mean our study is of major interest to understand the impact that mild illnesses can have on other organisms, including humans”, says Professor Dennis Hasselquist from the Department of Biology, Lund University, one of the researchers behind the study.