Monkey Study Reveals A Troubling Link Between Natural Disasters And Aging

Etna eruption causes storm with lightning

An unusually powerful eruption of Sicily’s Mt. Etna volcano created a volcanic storm on Thursday night with bolts of lightning streaking the sky above the crater.

Boris Behnke, a volcanologist with Italy’s National Institute for Geophysics and Volcanology, told the Associated Press that volcanic storms were rare phenomena that happen in particularly violent eruptions or when the volcano is near water.

In the recent Tonga eruption there were roughly 100 volcanic lightning bolts per minute, Behnke explained. Volcanic lightning was observed on Etna in 2021, in 2015 and in 2013, according to Behnke.

The eruption sent volcanic ash over 10 kilometers (6 miles) into the air above sea level. Etna is the largest of Italy’s three active volcanoes, which also include Stromboli, on the Sicilian island of the same name, and Mt. Vesuvius near Naples, which last erupted in 1944.

It’s a popular tourist destination attracting hikers eager to see the extraordinary lava flows glowing orange at night…READ ON

Monkey Study Reveals A Troubling Link Between Natural Disasters And Aging

Extreme weather events, such as hurricanes and other natural disasters, are becoming more and more frequent. These events have also been taking an increasingly grim toll on survivors’ mental and physical health — including the non-humans animals that thrive in disaster-stricken areas.

Older rhesus monkey resting
Rhesus macaques on Cayo Santiago experienced accelerated aging after Hurricane Maria, a new study finds. Image credit: Noah Snyder-Mackler

In a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers analyzed changes to genes involved in the immune system in a group of rhesus macaque monkeys (Macaca mulatta) residing on the Puerto Rican island of Cayo Santiago before and after Hurricane Maria devastated the nation.

“We wanted to study aging after Hurricane Maria to see whether we found support, at the molecular level, for this idea that extreme adversity — particularly from natural disasters — can accelerate parts of the aging process,” Marina Watowich, lead author on the study and a graduate student in the SMack Lab at the University of Washington, tells Inverse.

They found that adult macaques that lived through Hurricane Maria experienced accelerated aging, showing changes in their DNA corresponding with monkeys two years older than them. When scaled to humans’ current average lifespan, that difference in gene expression translates to a whopping seven to eight years of human life…READ ON

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