New research from the University of Glasgow suggests that lifespan is affected by the rate at which bodies grow early in life: manipulating growth rates in stickleback fish can extend their lifespan by nearly a third or reduce it by 15 percent.
A team from the University’s Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine altered the growth rate of 240 fish by exposing them to brief cold or warm spells, which put them behind or ahead their normal growth schedule.
Once the environmental temperature was returned to normal, the fish got back on track by accelerating or slowing their growth accordingly. However, the change in growth rate also affected their rate of aging.
While the normal lifespan of sticklebacks is around two years, the slow-growth fish lived for more than 30 percent longer, with an average lifespan of nearly 1000 days. In contrast, the accelerated-growth fish had a lifespan that was 15% shorter than normal.
These effects occurred despite all fish reaching the same adult size, and were even stronger when the rate of growth was increased by artificially manipulating the length of daylight the fish were exposed to, “tricking” their bodies into growing faster to reach their target size before the start of the breeding season.
Professor Neil Metcalfe, who worked on the study, said: “The results of the study are striking. It appears that bodies which grow quickly accumulate greater tissue damage than those that grow more slowly and their lifespan is substantially reduced as a result. The study also demonstrates the surprising ways in which a slight change in environmental conditions in early life can have long-term consequences.