Gut microbiome and telomere length in gull hatchlings

Velando, A., Noguera, J.C., Aira, M. and Domínguez, J., 2021. Gut microbiome and telomere length in gull hatchlings. Biology Letters, 17(10), p.20210398.

In many animals, recent evidence indicates that the gut microbiome may be acquired during early development, with possible consequences on newborns’ health. Thus, it has been hypothesized that a healthy microbiome protects telomeres and genomic integrity against cellular stress. However, the link between the early acquired microbiome and telomere dynamics has not hitherto been investigated. In birds, this link may also be potentially modulated by the transfer of maternal glucocorticoids, since these substances dysregulate microbiome composition during postnatal development. Here, we examined the effect of the interplay between the microbiome and stress hormones on the telomere length of yellow-legged gull hatchlings by using a field experiment in which we manipulated the corticosterone content in eggs. We found that the hatchling telomere length was related to microbiome composition, but this relationship was not affected by the corticosterone treatment. Hatchlings with a microbiome dominated by potential commensal bacteria (i.e. Catellicoccus and Cetobacterium) had larger telomeres, suggesting that an early establishment of the species-specific microbiome during development may have important consequences on offspring health and survival.