BatLab Ageless Project - July 2015

Every July BatLab sets sail for France in search of the secret of ever-lasting youth. This is the goal of Prof. Emma Teeling’s European Research Council funded Ageless project which focuses on determining the molecular bases underlying the evolution of exceptional longevity in the Greater Mouse Eared Bat, Myotis myotis. Given their small size and high metabolic rate it would be expected that these bats should live about as long as a mouse (2-3 years), but contrary to this, a tagged Myotis bat has been recaptured at an amazing 41 years old! To discover just how these bats live for so long every year the Ageless team samples a tagged population of Myotis myotis of known age in Brittany, France. Here, they work in close collaboration with a local conservation group, Bretagne Vivante who have studied and tagged this Myotis myotis population since 2010.

Nicole Foley, PhD Fellow, describes a typical night in the field, noting that it involves 'surveying attics of old churches and setting up highly specialised Harp Traps to capture the bats as they emerge at night to feed. Once captured, the bats are transponded, measured and weighed before tiny samples of wing tissue and blood are taken from each bat. Before being released each bat is fed and watered; meal worms being the food of choice.'

Nicole explains that 'the Ageless team use these samples to examine a wide range of aging biomarkers such as telomeres and mitochondria and furthermore, track age-related changes in gene expression to garner a better understanding of how exceptional longevity has evolved in these bats.

This year the BatLab group invited, Crawford Hayes student, Jodie Murphy along with them to France.  Jodie discusses her role on the project as a secretary, explaining that this involved her 'recording all information about the bat being sampled, putting the samples into their tubes and making sure all equipment was clean and ready for the operator'. 

'As bats are nocturnal we would start sampling just after sundown and wouldn’t finish until the early hours or sometimes even the late hours of the morning. During this time things would get very hectic as there is so much going on and it was important to keep calm and focus on my own task. From working in such a fast paced environment, I have greatly improved my ability to work well under pressure and to remain diligent while doing so. Overall the experience was very engaging, and it gave me a great insight into the world of fieldwork'.