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Genetica. 1993;91(1-3):89-98.

Evolution of aging: testing the theory using Drosophila.

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  • 1ICAPB, Division of Biological Sciences, University of Edinburgh, UK.


Evolutionary explanations of aging (or senescence) fall into two classes. First, organisms might have evolved the optimal life history, in which survival and fertility late in life are sacrificed for the sake of early reproduction or high pre-adult survival. Second, the life history might be depressed below this optimal compromise by the influx of deleterious mutations; since selection against late-acting mutations is weaker, deleterious mutations will impose a greater load on late life. We discuss ways in which these theories might be investigated and distinguished, with reference to experimental work with Drosophila. While genetic correlations between life history traits determine the immediate response to selection, they are hard to measure, and may not reflect the fundamental constraints on life history. Long term selection experiments are more likely to be informative. The third approach of using experimental manipulations suffers from some of the same problems as measures of genetic correlations; however, these two approaches may be fruitful when used together. The experimental results so far suggest that aging in Drosophila has evolved in part as a consequence of selection for an optimal life history, and in part as a result of accumulation of predominantly late-acting deleterious mutations. Quantification of these effects presents a major challenge for the future.

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