Evolution of ageing as a tangle of trade-offs: Energy versus function

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Despite tremendous progress in recent years, our understanding of the evolution of ageing is still incomplete. A dominant paradigm maintains that ageing evolves due to the competing energy demands of reproduction and somatic maintenance leading to slow accumulation of unrepaired cellular damage with age. However, the centrality of energy trade-offs in ageing has been increasingly challenged as studies in different organisms have uncoupled the trade-off between reproduction and longevity. An emerging theory is that ageing instead is caused by biological processes that are optimized for early-life function but become harmful when they continue to run-on unabated in late life. This idea builds on the realization that early-life regulation of gene expression can break down in late life because natural selection is too weak to optimize it. Empirical evidence increasingly supports the hypothesis that suboptimal gene expression in adulthood can result in physiological malfunction leading to organismal senescence. We argue that the current state of the art in the study of ageing contradicts the widely held view that energy trade-offs between growth, reproduction, and longevity are the universal underpinning of senescence. Future research should focus on understanding the relative contribution of energy and function trade-offs to the evolution and expression of ageing.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20191604
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1911
Publication statusPublished - 18 Sep 2019

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