Lobsters are famous for living long lives, but when it comes to determining the age of an individual organism, it’s actually surprisingly difficult. As they molt and develop new exoskeletons throughout their lives, they shed many of the telltale signs of aging, making it difficult for fishermen and conservationists to protect the species and maintain healthy populations.
Fortunately, a new study published in Evolutionary Applications has determined a way to root out the true age of these deceptive creatures. Using the accumulation of methyl groups, molecules that attach to strands of DNA over time, researchers can track how long an organism has been alive. This process, called methylation, is caused by environmental factors like diet and smoking in humans. The researchers believe that environmental factors are also responsible for these signs of age in lobsters.
To come to this conclusion, the researchers took DNA samples from the legs and antennae of 155 lobsters between the ages of 0 and 51 months. Analyzing samples from these lobsters of known age allows the team to map out differences in methyl groups among lobsters of varying ages.
Although analyzing DNA is a time-intensive process, the researchers are optimistic that establishing an aging mechanism for lobsters will allow conservationists to better monitor and protect populations. Moving forwards, the team plans to continue to analyze lobsters up to six years old to see how factors such as water temperature affect methylation.
Source study: Evolutionary Applications – Ageing European lobsters (Homarus gammarus) using DNA methylation of evolutionarily conserved ribosomal DNA