There is rapidly growing interest in understanding the links between telomere dynamics and life histories, health and ageing in a variety of different species and environments. There are many different approaches to measuring telomeres but, as yet, no clear consensus regarding which is the most appropriate for a given species or scientific context. The overarching aim of the workshop was to develop a standardised code of best practice for sampling, laboratory measurement and data analysis for measuring telomere length in non-model study organisms. The workshop brought together international experts from the biomedical and biological sciences with the aim of developing and, ultimately, disseminating consensus in the following three areas:
- The best approach to sampling and sample storage for telomere measurement in non model species
- The most appropriate methods for measuring telomere length in different species and contexts
- The best way to analyse to telomere data and to relate telomere length to organismal and environmental parameters
Over two full days of presentations and discussions, we discussed best practice regarding sampling and sample storage, measurement of telomere length using different methods (focussing on telomere restriction fragment analyses and real-time quantitative PCR, but also covering newer and more advanced methods such as dot-blot analysis and STELA), and the analysis of data generated by these methods. The collaborative and open atmosphere and diverse expertise of the attendees meant that a general consensus was reached regarding best practices in telomere length analyses by the end of the workshop. Outstanding challenges for those working in non-model organisms were also identified. As such, the aims of the workshop were fully met.
The attendees have now disseminated both consensus and remaining challenges identified at the meeting through the publication of a review article in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution (see outputs).
We organised a related symposium on “The physiological mechanisms that shape life histories” at the First Joint Congress on Evolutionary Biology in Ottawa in July 2012. This landmark conference will bring together five of the world’s largest academic societies devoted to the study of ecology and evolutionary biology: the American Society of Naturalists (ASN), the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution (CSEE) the European Society for Evolutionary Biology (ESEB), the Society for the Study of Evolution (SSE), and the Society of Systematic Biologists (SSB). The symposium is organised by workshop attendees (Barrett, Nussey) and will involve talks disseminating recent findings on telomere length analysis in non-model organisms.
Co-I Monaghan (Glasgow) lead a follow-up application to the Leverhulme Trust for an International Network Grant. This was awarded in December 2013. This will provide funds for a further three international workshops, of similar or larger size to this one, over the coming 3 years.
An additional important result of the workshop was that by joining forces to organise and place a large order for Sybr DX DNA blot stain with Invitrogen, the company has agreed to produce this potentially important reagent for telomere length studies. This reagent is vital for the new ‘dot blot’ method for telomere length measurement, presented and discussed by Prof Abraham Aviv at the workshop, which shows great promise for use in non-model organisms. Invitrogen has ceased production of the reagent, except at special request, rendering its purchase prohibitively expensive. Concerted and coordinated efforts (lead by Monaghan and Aviv) following discussions at the workshop to put together a large, multi-institute order have been successful. Many interested parties at and outwith the workshop have been able to obtain the reagent at an affordable price as a result, and this may allow the new method to become widely used. It is hoped Invitrogen may start producing the DX stain affordably for individual order in the near future.