Heritability of telomere variation: It’s all about the environment!

Hannah L. Dugdale, David S. Richardson (Lead Author)

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

101 Citations (Scopus)
8 Downloads (Pure)


Individual differences in telomere length have been linked to survival and senescence. Understanding the heritability of telomere length can provide important insight into individual differences and facilitate our understanding of the evolution of telomeres. However, to gain accurate and meaningful estimates of telomere heritability it is vital that the impact of the environment, and how this may vary, is understood and accounted for. The aim of this review is to raise awareness of this important, but much under-appreciated point. We outline the factors known to impact telomere length and discuss the fact that telomere length is a trait that changes with age. We highlight statistical methods that can separate genetic from environmental effects and control for confounding variables. We then review how well previous studies in vertebrate populations including humans have taken these factors into account. We argue that studies to date either use methodological techniques that confound environmental and genetic effects, or use appropriate methods but lack sufficient power to fully separate these components. We discuss potential solutions. We conclude that we need larger studies, which also span longer time periods, to account for changing environmental effects, if we are to determine meaningful estimates of the genetic component of telomere length.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20160450
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1741
Early online date26 Jan 2018
Publication statusPublished - 5 Mar 2018


  • Heritability
  • telomeres
  • variation,
  • animal models
  • genetic effects
  • environmental effect

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