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Am Nat. 2013 Nov;182(5):653-65. doi: 10.1086/673296. Epub 2013 Sep 12.

Heritability of life span is largely sex limited in Drosophila.

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Ageing Research Group, Department of Evolutionary Biology, Uppsala University, Norbyvägen 18D, 75236 Uppsala, Sweden.


Males and females differ with respect to life span and rate of aging in most animal species. Such sexual dimorphism can be associated with a complex genetic architecture, where only part of the genetic variation is shared between the sexes. However, the extent to which this is true for life span and aging is not known, because studies of life span have given contradictory results and aging has not been studied from this perspective. Here we investigate the additive genetic architecture of life span and aging in Drosophila melanogaster. We find substantial amounts of additive genetic variation for both traits, with more than three-quarters of this variation available for sex-specific evolutionary change. This result shows that the sexes have a profoundly different additive genetic basis for these traits, which has several implications. First, it translates into an, on average, three-times-higher heritability of life span within, compared to between, the sexes. Second, it implies that the sexes are relatively free to evolve with respect to these traits. And third, as life span and aging are traits that integrate over all genetic factors that contribute to mortal disease, it also implies that the genetics of heritable disease differs vastly between the sexes.

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