Quantitative genetic tests of recent senescence theory: age-specific mortality and male fertility in Drosophila melanogaster

Heredity (Edinb). 2003 Dec;91(6):546-56. doi: 10.1038/sj.hdy.6800353.


Quantitative genetic models of aging predict that additive genetic variance for fitness components should increase with age. However, recent studies have found that at very late ages, the genetic variance components decline. This decline may be due to an age-related drop in reproductive effort. If genetic variance in reproductive effort affects the genetic variance in mortality, the decline in reproductive effort at late ages should lead to a decrease in the genetic variance in mortality. To test this, we carried out a large-scale quantitative genetic analysis of age-specific mortality and fertility in virgin male Drosophila melanogaster. As in earlier studies, we found that the additive variance for age-specific mortality and fertility declined at late ages. Also, recent theoretical developments provide new predictions to distinguish between the mutation accumulation (MA) and antagonistic pleiotropy (AP) models of senescence. The deleterious effects of inbreeding are expected to increase with age under MA, but not under AP. This prediction was supported for both age-specific mortality and male fertility. Under AP, the ratio of dominance to additive variance is expected to decline with age. This predicition, too, was supported by the data analyzed here. Taken together, these analyses provide support for both the models playing a role in the aging process. We argue that the time has come to move beyond a simple comparison of these genetic models, and to think more deeply about the evolutionary causes and consequences of senescence.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aging / genetics*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Drosophila melanogaster / genetics*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / physiology*
  • Fertility / physiology
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Male
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Mortality
  • Mutation / genetics