Our New ARC Grant on Motor Performance and Ageing

If you thought turning 30 was bad, you're not going to like this. 

We lose more than 0.5% of our muscle mass each year after 30, which decreases our ability to run, jump, swim and perform virtually any motor task. Age-related muscle loss (known as sarcopenia) increases our risk of dying due to injury and even illness, as the proteins in our muscles are a major source of fuel for our immune systems.

Elderly sea gypsy weaves nets in Phuket, Thailand

Elderly sea gypsy weaves nets in Phuket, Thailand

Bike riding in Sri Lanka         Photo credit: Getty Images

Bike riding in Sri Lanka        Photo credit: Getty Images

Luckily, there's a simple solution to the problem: getting off the couch.

Exercise improves the efficiency of muscle metabolism and makes muscles more protein-dense, which helps slow ageing. We live longer, healthier lives. 

For humans, motor ageing affects the quality and length of life. But what about animals? In nature, motor function literally means life or death, as individuals have to escape predators and catch prey to survive. They also have to find mates to reproduce. They have to run over varied terrain, in the night or day, driving rain or blazing sun, with varied body sizes and shapes. Males may have dangling testicles, females may have dangling babies. And they have to do all this while avoiding catastrophic injury. 

Last week, our research team - A/Prof Robbie Wilson, Dr Diana Fisher, Dr Hamish Campbell, Dr Celine Frere and me - got a major grant from the Australian Research Council to study a critical aspect of animal performance: how an animal's habitat affects its motor development and ageing

Well-endowed male antechinus

Well-endowed male antechinus

Male antechinus

Male antechinus

What does habitat have to do with anything? We believe that within a species, individuals living in more-complex (i.e. rocky or diverse or steep) environments will have better motor function and slower motor ageing than those living in simpler (flat or unvaried) environments. This will help them live longer and produce more offspring.

Over the next 3 years, we'll be testing these ideas on small mammals - including quolls and antechinus - both in the wild and in captivity. At our field sites, we'll use GPS trackers to understand how animals use complex versus simple habitats, and how this affects their motor performance, ageing and mating. At our research facility, we'll raise animals in complex versus simple habitats to measure differences in performance, muscle physiology and mating success between environments and over lifetimes. 

Our study will show how habitat use affects motor performance and ageing in wild animals, which is key to their conservation. But more than that, we hope to shed light on a new way of thinking about motor rehabilitation. Over 50% of elderly people will experience debilitating muscle loss in their lifetimes, yet little is known about how the complexity  of movement affects muscle quality.

So this is some of what we'll be doing these next few years! If you're interested in collaborating, volunteering or learning more, please get in touch - we'd love to hear from you. (amandacniehaus@gmail.com or a.niehaus@uq.edu.au)

*This post was originally published here .

Source: https://wilsonperformancelab.squarespace.c...

UQ CIEF Grant awarded to the Performance Lab

- by Robbie Wilson

Last week I travelled back to Groote Eylandt to sign off on a collaborative research project with the Anindilyakwa Land Council worth $375,000 over the next two years. This supports an important project and recognizes our strengthening relationship with the people of Groote Eylandt with whom we've been working for the last five years. 

Indigenous dugong painting on Groote Eylandt

Indigenous dugong painting on Groote Eylandt

For our UQ-CIEF grant we'll be exploring the possible toxic effects of manganese from the local mining operations on the wildlife of Groote Eylandt. Groote hosts one of the world’s largest Mn mines - and despite considerable financials rewards for the local community, many locals are becoming increasingly concerned about the long-term impacts of Mn contamination for their environment. The toxic effects of Mn usually manifest in animals by affecting their cognitive and motor function, which places our research group in a unique position to tackle this research.

We'll examine the pattern of Mn accumulation in the local wildlife and then test whether any increased Mn affects motor function in our primary study animal, the northern quoll. This species offers a perfect model system because it is highly abundant across the island – both close and far from the mining operations – and we can easily adapt tests of motor control from protocols used in biomedical studies of rats and mice.

Groote Eylandt field work

Ami (PhD student) and Skye (Researcher) will be the main team members working on this project but, as always, everyone in the lab will contribute to the smooth running of the work. There is never a shortage of volunteers offering help!! We’re all excited about continuing our work with the Indigenous Rangers of Groote Eylandt and we hope they get as much out of our collaboration as we all do. My feeling is that you haven’t graduated as an Australian ecologist (or zoologist) until you’ve wandered through the bush with a real local and seen the land through their eyes. 

Thanks again to the Anindilyakwan people for their on-going trust and acceptance of our research team. We look forward to the season ahead.


I spent a late afternoon wandering rocky landscapes and avoiding crocodiles