Kent Island the Site of Some of the Year's Top Scientific Research

Story posted January 08, 2004

The latest issue of Discover magazine (January 2004, Vol. 25 No. 1) includes a guide to the top 100 science stories of 2003, and research done at the Bowdoin Scientific Station is on the list.

Coming in at No. 62 is "Zoologists Announce Aging Surprise" (p. 51), the findings by Iowa State University researchers who studied Leach's storm petrels on Kent Island.

According to the Discover article, the researchers found that the secret to the storm petrel's longevity (they live up to 30 years) can be found in the bird's telomeres, "repetitive bits of DNA that sit on the ends of the chromosomes in each cell like protective caps."

In most animals, when cells divide, chromosomes are copied for the new cells, and the copied telomeres are shorter than in the original cell. The result of all this copying and shortening over time is aging. In the storm petrel, however, the telomeres lengthen with age. Researchers believe this telomere lengthening is at least one factor in the bird's long life.

The Kent Island research was done by Mark F. Haussmann, an ISU Ph.D. candidate; Carol Vleck, ISU associate professor and chair of the EEB graduate major, department of ecology, evolution and organismal biology; and Carrie Sanneman, a member of the ISU class of '05. The researchers were assisted on Kent Island by Chuck Huntington, Bowdoin professor of biology emeritus and director of the Bowdoin College Scientific Station emeritus. Also involved with the research at ISU is David Vleck, associate scientist in the department of ecology, evolution and organismal biology.

The team's findings have also been written up in Science (vol. 300:1653) and New Scientist (May 24, 2003; p. 19).

The researchers are continuing their work on Kent Island, studying the immune system and the enzyme telomerase in the Leach's storm petrel population.

Discover magazine's list of the Top 100 Science Stories can be found here.

Read more about this aging research and other work in Dr. Carol Vleck's lab here. (If you have trouble accessing this site directly, it can be reached from this page.)

Visit the Bowdoin College Scientific Station's home page here.

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