Epigenetic models developed for plains zebras predict age in domestic horses and endangered equids

Brenda Larison, Gabriela M. Pinho, Amin Haghani, Joseph A. Zoller, Caesar Z. Li, Carrie J. Finno, Colin Farrell, Christopher B. Kaelin, Gregory S. Barsh, Bernard Wooding, Todd R. Robeck, Dewey Maddox, Matteo Pellegrini, Steve Horvath

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Effective conservation and management of threatened wildlife populations require an accurate assessment of age structure to estimate demographic trends and population viability. Epigenetic aging models are promising developments because they estimate individual age with high accuracy, accurately predict age in related species, and do not require invasive sampling or intensive long-term studies. Using blood and biopsy samples from known age plains zebras (Equus quagga), we model epigenetic aging using two approaches: the epigenetic clock (EC) and the epigenetic pacemaker (EPM). The plains zebra EC has the potential for broad application within the genus Equus given that five of the seven extant wild species of the genus are threatened. We test the EC’s ability to predict age in sister taxa, including two endangered species and the more distantly related domestic horse, demonstrating high accuracy in all cases. By comparing chronological and estimated age in plains zebras, we investigate age acceleration as a proxy of health status. An interaction between chronological age and inbreeding is associated with age acceleration estimated by the EPM, suggesting a cumulative effect of inbreeding on biological aging throughout life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1412
JournalCommunications Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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