evolution and inevitable aging: maybe not

From: Damien Broderick (d.broderick@english.unimelb.edu.au)
Date: Thu Jul 19 2001 - 00:24:51 MDT

An ever-popular topic is whether evolutionary adaptation alone can account
for aging. Maybe not:

Caleb E. Finch, Ph.D.,
ARCO and William F. Kieschnick Chair
in the Neurobiology of Aging and Director of the
Alzheimer Disease Research Center (ADRC)
Ethel Percy Andrus Gerontology Research Center
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, California

Under the direction of Prof. Finch, the ADRC has represented the combined
of investigators form USC, CalTech, UCLA, and other Los Angeles-area
The Clinical Core of this Center seeks to provide a comprehensive and
accurate diagnosis
for Alzheimer's patients that will follow the progression of the disease
over time, and provide
an extensive information database for the cross-fertilization of
interdisciplinary research.
The center also provides outreach and educational programs for awareness and
understanding within the community.

Every year since 1997, Prof. Finch has organized a symposium that he hopes
will give rise to
a brand new line biological research -- the study of species that can live
to great ages with no
apparent decrease in fertility or vitality. Such unusual species, that
appear to exhibit "negligible
senescence," remain a treasure-trove of information that is hidden in their
cells and habitats
waiting to be revealed by the newest technologies of genomics, proteomics,
and gene expression

This year's Fourth Annual Symposium on Organisms with Slow Aging (SOSA) was
largest yet with more than 60 biologists sharing data about an enormous
array of species --
ranging from insects to turtles, from trees to rockfish, and from sea birds
to primates.
The evolutionary theory of senescence is being seriously challenged by this
data because
there are now so many examples of warm-blooded and cold-blooded vertebrates
that just
don't fit the standard pattern of aging and senescence. Ancient
bristlecone pines still produce
as much pollen as young trees and have been assessed at over 4,000 years
old. Female turtles
over 65 and Rockfish older than 200 have been documented to produce eggs
that are as
numerous and viable as those produced by young adults. Among the
honeybees, worker bees
and queen bees share the same genome, but the queen bee goes on to live
more than 20
times longer than a typical worker (she is the only one who eats royal
jelly)? The disparity
is even more dramatic between worker termites and their queen.

This data provides evidence that is completely contrary to the theory that
"aging is inevitable."
It is therefore quite a remarkable time in the history of gerontology.
Much of this information
was not available to biological researchers even two years ago. Until now,
the task of tracking
down the data, seeking out their common threads, and placing them into a
larger puzzle was
taken up by a few pioneering biologists such as Finch. "We know a lot
about fruit flies,
microscopic worms, and white mice in the lab, but we know relatively little
about these other
longer-lived organisms, especially those whose rates of aging are so slow
that it may even
approach the point of being non-measurable," said Finch. As a result of
Prof. Finch's efforts,
the National Insitute of Aging (NIA) is considering the formation of a new
Program on the
Comparative Biology of Aging.

Ref. "Research News," Vitality Magazine, p. 5 (Spring 2001).

[fwd'd from another list]

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