Elaine Elizabeth Guevara

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Yale U.

Grant number

Gr. 9369

Approve Date

October 7, 2016

Project Title

Gomez Guevara, Elaine E., Yale U., New Haven, CT - To aid research on 'Genomics of Longevity in a Wild Primate,' supervised by Dr. David Watts

Preliminary abstract: Primates are long-lived among mammals and humans in particular are distinguished by exceptional longevity, which is proposed to have co-evolved with some of the defining characteristics of our species, including large brain size, social learning, language, and possibly cooperative breeding. Yet the physiological bases and genetic components of this trait are not well understood. I propose to explore the evolution of senescence in primates using comparative and population genomic and epigenetic approaches. Specifically, the system I will focus on is a population of wild Verreaux’s sifakas (Propithecus verreauxi), which, like humans, are long-lived and demonstrate a slow rate of aging. The population at Bezà Mahafaly Special Reserve where I will work has been the subject of long-term study, allowing for the collection of accurate individual life history data, and offer a promising alternative to the captive, inbred laboratory animals most commonly studied in aging research. I will look for evidence of accelerated evolution of aging-related candidate genes in primates, including sifakas and humans, as well as assay variation at these loci among sifakas, which might contribute to within-species differences in senescence. Finally, I will characterize aging-related epigenetic changes in the sifaka population. These genetic analyses can help identify the predominant physiological bases for longevity in primates, which in turn could shed light on how fundamental evolutionary processes shaping life history diversity operate and provide empirical data for evaluating evolutionary hypotheses of aging like antagonistic pleiotropy, as well as potentially provide context for understanding the timing and proximate mechanisms behind the evolution of our lineage’s long lifespan.