Domestic and Wild Bird Models for the Study of Aging

D.J. Holmes and M.A. Ottinger

Comparative gerontologists now recognize that birds as a group are exceptionally long-lived for their body sizes, especially given their lifetime energy expenditures, and that domestic and wild avian models hold significant potential for understanding basic aging processes. Some domestic birds, including chickens, pigeons, quail and small cage bird species, are actually already well developed as laboratory models, and have been used for years in studies of neurobiology, reproductive biology, and developmental biology, as well as other disciplines. Avian models have already yielded a significant body of information about aging-related changes in fertility, neuroendocrinology and reproduction, as well as adult neuroregeneration and the basis of cellular resistance to oxidative damage. Field ornithologists have gathered a wealth of demographic data relevant to senescence in wild bird populations, which represent excellent systems for monitoring and developing biomarkers of aging—including changes in immune function—in outbred wild vertebrates subject to natural evolutionary forces. The slow aging of birds is accompanied by exceptionally slow or even negligible reproductive aging in many species, including wild seabirds. While the development of molecular resources for carrying out aging studies with birds lags behind that for classical mammalian and invertebrate laboratory models, the past decade has seen an increase in the use of birds in the field of aging. The development of promising, long-lived avian biogerontological models will require judicious use of the comparative method, adaptation of standard aging biomarkers for use in new domestic and wild bird models, and vigorous and creative interdisciplinary collaboration.

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