Toggle Main Menu Toggle Search

Open Access padlockePrints

Cumulative stress in research animals: Telomere attrition as a biomarker in a welfare context?

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Melissa BatesonORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Progress in improving animal welfare is currently limited by the lack of objective methods for assessing lifetime experience. I propose that telomere attrition, a cellular biomarker of biological age, provides a molecular measure of cumulative experience that could be used to assess the welfare impact of husbandry regimes and/or experimental procedures on non-human animals. I review evidence from humans that telomere attrition, is accelerated by negative experiences in a cumulative and dose-dependent manner, but that this attrition can be mitigated or even reversed by positive life-style interventions. Evidence from non-human animals suggests that despite some specific differences in telomere biology, stress-induced telomere attrition is a robust phenomenon, occurring in a range of species including mice and chickens. I conclude that telomere attrition apparently integrates positive and negative experience in an accessible common currency that translates readily to novel species – the Holy Grail of a cumulative welfare indicator.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Bateson M

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: BioEssays

Year: 2016

Volume: 38

Issue: 2

Pages: 201-212

Print publication date: 01/02/2016

Online publication date: 08/12/2015

Acceptance date: 26/11/2015

Date deposited: 26/11/2015

ISSN (print): 0265-9247

ISSN (electronic): 1521-1878

Publisher: Wiley


DOI: 10.1002/bies.201500127

PubMed id: 26645576


Altmetrics provided by Altmetric


Funder referenceFunder name
NC/K000802/1National Centre for the 3Rs
BB/J016446/1Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
BB/J016446/1UK's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council