Age-associated DNA-methylation profiles have been used successfully to develop highly accurate biomarkers of age ("epigenetic clocks") in humans, mice, dogs, and other species. Here we present epigenetic clocks for African and Asian elephants. These clocks were developed using novel DNA methylation profiles of 140 elephant blood samples of known age, at loci that are highly conserved between mammalian species, using a custom Infinium array (HorvathMammalMethylChip40). We present epigenetic clocks for Asian elephants (Elephas maximus), African elephants (Loxodonta africana), and both elephant species combined. Two additional human-elephant clocks were constructed by combining human and elephant samples. Epigenome-wide association studies identified elephant age-related CpGs and their proximal genes. The products of these genes play important roles in cellular differentiation, organismal development, metabolism, and circadian rhythms. Intracellular events observed to change with age included the methylation of bivalent chromatin domains, and targets of polycomb repressive complexes. These readily available epigenetic clocks can be used for elephant conservation efforts where accurate estimates of age are needed to predict demographic trends.


Animal Science

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© 2021 The Authors. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


aging, development, DNA methylation, elephant, epigenetic clock

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Aging Cell