The hurricane on “Ile aux singes” could have accelerated the aging of rhesus macaques

A powerful hurricane that ended up killing 3,000 people hit Puerto Rico in September 2017. Humans weren’t the only victims, however. The hurricane also passed through Cayo Santiago’s “Monkey Island” where a population of rhesus macaques had long been studied by scientists. According to them, the hurricane could have impacted the life cycle of this population of macaques.

The island’s monkey population came under scrutiny following Hurricane Maria. The results obtained enabled the scientists to observe that the hurricane could have accelerated the rate of aging of the immune system of the rhesus macaques.

These results suggest that extreme climatic events could also disrupt human biology. This situation is all the more worrying as the climate change that is currently raging could generate many meteorological events of this type.

Genetic analysis

The blood of rhesus macaques was analyzed to check the possible effects of the hurricane on the regulation of immune cell genes and on aging. The results were then compared with those obtained on samples taken before the hurricane.

A global analysis of the expression of immune genes showed that 4% of the genes of the immune cells of the monkeys had undergone alterations after the passage of the hurricane. The researchers also found that the most expressed genes were those connected to inflammation, while genes related to important immune functions were attenuated.

Since rhesus macaques display similar biological and behavioral traits to humans, it is likely that these gene changes also occur in humans following extreme natural disasters.

The effects of the hurricane on aging

According to the researchers, the surviving monkeys had immune gene expression profiles that had aged an average of two years, or about seven or eight years of the human lifespan.

Scientists explain that a negative experience like surviving an extreme event can lead to chronic inflammation and early signs of certain age-related diseases like heart disease. However, the researchers admit that it is not yet clear how these events embed themselves in the body to lead to negative health effects.


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