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J Intern Med. 2008 Feb;263(2):117-27. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2796.2007.01901.x.

Understanding ageing from an evolutionary perspective.

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1
Institute for Ageing and Health, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. tom.kirkwood@ncl.ac.uk

Abstract

There is clear heritability of human longevity. However, the genetics of ageing is likely to be complex. Evolution theory tells us not to expect genes that have been selected to promote ageing. Ageing is not programmed but results from accumulation of somatic damage, owing to limited investments in maintenance and repair. Genes controlling the levels of activities, such as DNA repair and antioxidant defence, thus regulate longevity. In addition, there may be contributions either from late-acting deleterious genes that escape the force of natural selection or that trade benefit at an early age against harm at older ages. In some species, there is evidence that genes have evolved to detect and respond to changes in the environment, e.g. food supply. Evolutionary understanding can also help to understand important features of the human life history such as menopause.

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