female Brachionus manjavacas rotifer with egg. Credit: Kristin Gribble

Female Brachionus manjavacas rotifer with egg. Credit: Kristin Gribble

Older mothers give birth to shorter-lived offspring, an observation Alexander Graham Bell made in humans in 1918 that has since been confirmed in several animal and plant species. But are there any beneficial effects of advanced maternal age on offspring? Kristin Gribble and David Mark Welch of the MBL’s Bay Paul Center and colleagues studied this question in the rotifer (B. manjavacas), a tiny aquatic animal that is becoming established as a model organism for aging research. Advanced maternal age, they found, reduced the lifespan, fecundity and size of offspring. However, if they put the mothers on a calorie restricted diet during pregnancy, it reduced the severity of these effects to varying degrees, depending on the type of caloric restriction (90 percent reduction in food given or alternating cycles of eating and fasting) and the gender of the offspring (lifespan of female offspring increased by about 17 percent, but lifespan of males did not change). Understanding the basis for these different maternal effects, the scientists say, may one day guide effective interventions to improve human health and life span. (Aging Cell, doi: 10.1111/acel.12217, 2014).