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Evolution in Health and Disease$
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Stephen C. Stearns and Jacob C. Koella

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780199207466

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199207466.001.0001

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Evolutionary biology as a foundation for studying aging and aging-related disease

Evolutionary biology as a foundation for studying aging and aging-related disease

(p.241) Chapter 18 Evolutionary biology as a foundation for studying aging and aging-related disease
Evolution in Health and Disease

Martin Ackermann

Scott D. Pletcher

Oxford University Press

Aging does not have a function. It exists because individuals often die for other reasons, and therefore natural selection cannot maintain late-life performance. The rate of aging is influenced by genes that affect the allocation of resources to somatic maintenance or reproduction, and are under the control of specific regulatory pathways. Mutations in these pathways, which are shared among diverse organisms ranging from unicellular fungi to humans, can lead to significant changes in the rate of aging. Some of these conserved pathways detect environmental cues, suggesting that environmental conditions affect life-history decisions. The ability to alter investment in maintenance in response to external cues might be advantageous for organisms living in a variable environment. If conditions are harsh, increased investment in maintenance and repair would improve survival to better times. Genetic interventions may short-circuit normal processing of environmental cues and trigger life-history decisions that result in an increased lifespan.

Keywords:   aging, genetic mechanisms, maintenance, reproduction, conserved pathways, plastic responses

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