University of Maryland: $12.5M Grant to Support Research on Male-Female Aging Differences

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A five-year, $12.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) will enable researchers from across the country—including a biologist from the University of Maryland—to form a new institute aimed at explaining why some female and male organisms age differently.

Sex-related aging differences have been observed across a number of species—including in humans, where women typically live longer than men—but vary widely between them, with some having little or none.

Researchers with the IISAGE Biology Integration Institute will analyze the evolutionary history and biological processes of various animal species to get to the root of aging. Gerald Wilkinson, a UMD biology professor and co-principal investigator of this project, will provide data and expertise from his research on several bat species that have disparities in life expectancy depending on their sex.

“There’s an overarching question that we’re trying to answer, and that is: How do you explain differences in lifespan between males and females in different organisms? In some species, males live longer, and in others, females live longer,” Wilkinson said. “There are many different ideas as to why that is, and researchers from a wide range of biological fields will have the chance to explore those possibilities with the IISAGE Biology Integration Institute.”

The institute will be led by Nicole Riddle, associate professor of biology with the University of Alabama at Birmingham. While this research will exclusively rely on animal data, Riddle said its finding could potentially be used to improve the lives of people.

“There are so many implications that aging has, and for us to have an opportunity to investigate how we could manipulate aging—be that through lifestyle changes or even medications—we could be primed to unlock the most robust understanding of aging we’ve yet known,” Riddle said.

IISAGE will use novel analysis tools and hundreds of datasets to develop predictive models that determine how genome architecture, organismal biology and phenotypic plasticity generate differences in aging. Ultimately, Riddle said, this research could identify ways to potentially control differences in aging between females and males.

The institute will also focus on community outreach and engagement, with plans to bring undergraduate students into labs during summers to conduct research, provide professional training to graduate students, host workshops and seminars, and display research in science museums across the country.

A citizen science project will also be critical to IISAGE’s data collection process. Pet owners will be tapped to collect data on domesticated animals for which no conclusive or substantial data exists.

In addition to UMD and UAB, researchers from Michigan State University, Cornell University, Marquette University, Brown University and the University of Houston are involved in IISAGE.

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