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Aging Cell. 2006 Aug;5(4):315-23.

Extraordinary plasticity in aging in Strongyloides ratti implies a gene-regulatory mechanism of lifespan evolution.

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School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol, Woodland Road, Bristol, UK.


Aging evolves as the result of weakened selection against late-acting deleterious alleles due, for example, to extrinsic mortality. Comparative studies of aging support this evolutionary theory, but details of the genetic mechanisms by which lifespan evolves remain unclear. We have studied aging in an unusual nematode, Strongyloides ratti, to gain insight into the nature of these mechanisms, in this first detailed examination of aging in a parasitic nematode. S. ratti has distinct parasitic and free-living adults, living in the rat small intestine and the soil, respectively. We have observed reproductive and demographic aging in parasitic adults, with a maximum lifespan of 403 days. By contrast the maximum lifespan of free-living adults is only 5 days. Thus, the two adults of S. ratti have evolved strikingly different rates of aging. Parasitic nematode species are frequently longer-lived than free-living species, presumably reflecting different extrinsic mortality rates in their respective niches. Parasitic and free-living female S. ratti are morphologically different, yet genetically identical. Thus, the 80-fold difference in their lifespans, the greatest plasticity in aging yet reported, must largely reflect evolved differences in gene expression. This suggests that interspecific differences in lifespan may evolve via similar mechanisms.

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