London: People who experience high levels of social stress and deprivation age faster as the cellular process involving DNA repair (or replication) may get affected by loneliness, a significant study shows.
DNA has a “tail” called a telomere.
A telomere is a region of repetitive DNA at the end of a chromosome, which protects the end of the chromosome from deterioration.
In order for the body to replace old, dying cells and make healthy new ones, the DNA must replicate, splitting in half to make an exact copy of itself.
Telomeres shorten with each cell division, and once a critical length is reached, cells are unable to divide further.
In other words, the longer the telomeres, the better.
“Studies on humans suggest that people who have experienced high levels of social stress and deprivation have shorter telomeres,” explained Dustin Penn from the Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology at University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna.
This study is the first to examine the effects of social isolation on telomere length in any species, he added.
To test whether social isolation accelerates telomere shortening, researchers conducted a study using DNA samples collected from African grey parrots during routine check-ups.
African greys are highly social birds but they are often reared and kept in isolation from other parrots.
She and her collaborators compared the telomere lengths of single birds versus pair-housed individuals with a broad range of ages (from 1 to 45 years).
They found that single-housed birds had shorter telomeres than pair-housed individuals of the same age group.
“Telomere length may be useful as a 'biomarker' that enables to assess an individual's exposure to chronic social stress,” Penn added.