We review the role that oxidative damage plays in regulating the lifespan of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. Results from our laboratory show that the lifespan of Drosophila is inversely correlated to its metabolic rate. The consumption of oxygen by adult insects is related to the rate of damage induced by oxygen radicals, which are purported to be generated as by-products of respiration. Moreover, products of activated oxygen species such as hydrogen peroxide and lipofuscin are higher in animals kept under conditions of increased metabolic rate. In order to understand the in vivo relationship between oxidative damage and the production of the superoxide radical, we generated transgenic strains of Drosophila melanogaster that synthesize excess levels of enzymatically active superoxide dismutase. This was accomplished by P-element transformation of Drosophila melanogaster with the bovine cDNA for CuZn superoxide dismutase, an enzyme that catalyzes the dismutation of the superoxide radical to hydrogen peroxide and water. Adult flies that express the bovine SOD in addition to native Drosophila SOD are more resistant to oxidative stresses and have a slight but significant increase in their mean lifespan. Thus, resistance to oxidative stress and lifespan of Drosophila can be manipulated by molecular genetic intervention. In addition, we have examined the ability of adult flies to respond to various environmental stresses during senescence. Resistance to oxidative stress, such as that induced by heat shock, is drastically reduced in senescent flies. This loss of resistance is correlated with the increase in protein damage generated in old flies by thermal stress and by the insufficient protection from cellular defense systems which includes the heat shock proteins as well as the oxygen radical scavenging enzymes. Collectively, results from our laboratory demonstrate that oxidative damage plays a role in governing the lifespan of Drosophila during normal metabolism and under conditions of environmental stress.