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The Secret to Longevity? Ask a Marmot

We all know the importance of a good night's sleep, but yellow-bellied marmots take things to a whole new level.

Yellow-bellied marmot sitting on a rock sniffing the air

A team from UCLA has discovered that these small mammals actually stop aging when they hibernate. And, since these large ground squirrels hibernate in underground burrows for about 8 months per year, they get a lot of sleep.

Scientists noticed that the yellow-bellied marmot had a longer than average lifespan for a mammal of its body weight. So, a team of UCLA biologists examined blood samples of these marmots in Colorado over multiple summers, looking at the levels of their epigenetic changes, chemical modifications that occur in DNA indicative of aging.

“Our results from different statistical approaches reveal that epigenetic aging essentially stalls during hibernation,” said lead author Gabriela Pinho. “We found that the epigenetic age of marmots increases during the active season, stops during hibernation and continues to increase in the next active season.”

Marmots and other hibernating mammals essentially go cold when they sleep through seasons. Their body temperature drops, they burn almost no calories, and their metabolism slows way down. These are all known factors that counter aging and improve longevity, the researchers said.

The team’s findings open many possibilities, even for humans who cannot naturally hibernate. In their paper published in the Journal of Nature Ecology and Evolution, they state that in addition to the biomedical and space exploration implications from these findings it is very useful to study hibernation in different species to understand the mechanisms of aging and its varying rates among individuals and species.


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