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We read that ageing is related to cell death when we run out of telomeres at the end of our DNA molecules. Humans live roughly for 70 years - the traditional three-score years and ten. This compares with the great apes, such as chimps and gorillas, which live for about 40 years. So we would expect the great apes to have fewer telomeres than humans. In fact the reverse is the case. Humans have telomeres of about 10 kilobases in length whereas the equivalent length in chimps and other great apes is about 23 kilobases. So what is going on? Why do we live longer?

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    $\begingroup$ Great question. However, a few references that contain the numbers would help people answer. +1 $\endgroup$ – AliceD Nov 4 '15 at 3:29
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    $\begingroup$ I think the problem is that you mix up the ageing of a cell with the ageing (or life span) of an organism. Of course the maximal lifespan in a perfect environment could be based on telomere length, but there are other factors shortening this life span as health care, general safety, behaviour,... $\endgroup$ – skymningen Nov 4 '15 at 10:50
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    $\begingroup$ Just remember the life expectancy of Mice is about 3 years, but they have really long telomeres. learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/chromosomes/telomeres I think a lot of the claims on here are absurd, but it gives a general overview. $\endgroup$ – AMR Nov 5 '15 at 3:55
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    $\begingroup$ You are incorrect about your figures. Chimpanzees live up to 60 years of age in captivity. The blog you are quoting is wrong. This is detail from the University of Wisconsin's National Primate Research Center (pin.primate.wisc.edu/factsheets/entry/chimpanzee). $\endgroup$ – AMR Nov 22 '15 at 7:23
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    $\begingroup$ Besides being wrong about telomeres, you are also forgetting the fact that through the 19th century, where we saw public sanitation for the first time and the advent of modern medicine, human life expectancy was between 35-40 years. Prior to the Renaissance and Industrial Revolutions, it was more like 30. So we had similar life expectancies to our cousins up until the point where we figured out the Germ Theory of Disease. $\endgroup$ – AMR Nov 22 '15 at 7:30
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The answer should be obvious: Telomeres do not determine an organism's longevity. If "we read" something that is trivially contradicted by observation, then, of course what "we" have read is wrong. In fact, if you actually read the primary literature on aging, telomeres play a fairly minor role. Unfortunately some sections of the media, and probably some educators who get their information from dumbed-down sensationalized media stories, have grabbed on to telomeres as a general explanation, without actually looking at the evidence.

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  • $\begingroup$ Absolutely. One of the likely culprits is Mitochondria no longer being able to perform their roles properly. Though to improve upon your answer, you should probably paraphrase and reference the paraphrases to the relevant primary literature on aging. $\endgroup$ – AMR Nov 4 '15 at 15:16
  • $\begingroup$ Please could you provide references in your answer $\endgroup$ – rg255 Nov 4 '15 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ It's not really necessary to give references, because as I say it's trivially obvious -- as the original question shows -- that telomere length isn't connected with aging. It would make more sense that the bizarre belief that telomeres are associated with organism aging -- which defies these well known and simple observations -- should support itself. $\endgroup$ – iayork Nov 4 '15 at 17:49
  • $\begingroup$ Telomere length is linked to aging - there's a number of links here: google.se/… @iayork $\endgroup$ – rg255 Nov 4 '15 at 21:10
  • $\begingroup$ It's well known that telomeres shrink as organisms age, yes. That does not mean that organisms age because telomeres shrink. The original question contains an obvious and trivial disproof of the simplistic causative link, and a second's check on Pubmed (for example, asking how long mouse vs human telomeres are) will show that the simplistic link is obviously wrong. $\endgroup$ – iayork Nov 4 '15 at 22:01
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There is not one simple cause of aging, like short telomeres, and the fact is that it hasn't even been settled whether aging is caused by evolution failing to evolve good enough repair mechanisms, or whether it evolved with a purpose, it might be that the genes of an organism are better spread if that organism doesn't live too long for example. For more details on the latter debate see this previous issue of Current Aging Science (all the articles are free).

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