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Telomerase Expression Linked To Body Mass

imals that express it, like mice, have cells that can reproduce more extensively and thus heal better.

Cancer cells, however, are those cells that constantly reproduce unchecked, and so evolution has shut off the expression of telomerase in human somatic cells, presumably because the threat of cancer outweighs the benefits of quick-healing.

But no one has looked into why mice express telomerase and humans don't. In fact, telomerase activity has been barely catalogued in the animal kingdom. Gorbunova decided to take on the question by creating a unique test. She investigated 15 rodents from across the globe to determine what level of telomerase activity each species expressed, to see if there were some correlation she could find.

The species ranged from tiny field mice to the 100-pound capybara from Brazil. Lifespans ranged from three years for the mice, to 23 or more for common backyard squirrels.

Acquiring specimens of these animals from around the world proved to be an unusual task.

"At one point I was woken up at two in the morning by a guy on a cell phone hunting pest beavers in Montezuma," says Gorbunova. "I'm still trying to wake up and this voice says, 'I hear you're looking for beavers.' "

For over a year, Gorbunova collected deceased rodents from around the world and had them shipped to her lab in chilled containers. She analyzed their tissues to determine if the telomerase was fully active in them, as it was in mice, or suppressed, as it is in humans. Rodents are close to each other on the evolutionary tree and so if there were a pattern to the telomerase expression, she should be able to spot it there.

To her surprise, she found no correlation between telomerase and longevity. The great monkey wrench in that theory was the common gray squirrel, which lives an amazing two decades, yet also expresses telomerase in great quantity. Evolution clearly didn't see long life in a
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