The animal kingdom is like high school
In a new study, researchers at the University of Michigan have found evidence that social factors may play a greater role in a species health than genetics.
The study focused on packs of hyenas and compared their social status in the group with the length of telomeres -- the caps at the end of each strand of DNA that protect chromosomes from deterioration.
Scientists have learned that the hyenas with the strongest "alpha" status also had the longest telomeres. Longer telomeres mean that they are inclined to be healthier. They also age at a slower rate than others.
"This work shows, for the first time, the effects of social rank on telomere length in wild mammals," says Nora Lewin, MSU doctoral student of zoology and co-lead author. "This enhances our understanding of how social and ecological variables may contribute to age-related declines of hyenas, and in organisms in general."
In other words, it's pretty sweet to be a popular hyena.