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Evolution, stress, and longevity

Lookup NU author(s): Emeritus Professor Thomas Kirkwood, Dr Daryl Shanley


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The disposable soma theory suggests that longevity is determined through the setting of longevity assurance mechanisms so as to provide an optimal compromise between investments in somatic maintenance (including stress resistance) and in reproduction. A corollary is that species with low extrinsic mortality are predicted to invest relatively more effort in maintenance, resulting in slower intrinsic ageing, than species with high extrinsic mortality. We tested this prediction in a comparative study of stress resistance in primary skin fibroblasts and confirmed that cells from long-lived species are indeed more resistant to a variant of stressors. A widely studied example of within-species variation in lifespan is the rodent calorie restriction model. Food-restricted animals show elevations in a range of stress response mechanisms, and it has been suggested that this is an outcome of natural selection for lift: history plasticity. We have developed a theoretical model for dynamic optimisation of the allocation of effort to maintenance and reproduction in response to fluctuations in food availability. The model supports the suggestion that the response to calorie restriction may be an evolutionary adaptation, raising interesting questions about the hierarchy of genetic control of multiple stress response systems. The model identifies ecological factors likely to support such an adaptation that may be relevant in considering the likely relevance of a similar response to calorie restriction in other species. Comparative and theoretical studies support the role of somatic maintenance and stress response systems in controlling the rate of ageing.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Shanley DP; Kirkwood TBL; Kapahi P

Publication type: Review

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Anatomy

Year: 2000

Volume: 197

Pages: 587-590

ISSN (print): 0021-8782

ISSN (electronic):