The membrane pacemaker theory of aging is an extension of the oxidative stress theory of aging. It emphasises variation in the fatty acid composition of membranes as an important influence on lipid peroxidation and consequently on the rate of aging and determination of lifespan. The products of lipid peroxidation are reactive molecules and thus potent damagers of other cellular molecules. It is suggested that the feedback effects of these peroxidation products on the oxidative stress experienced by cells is an important part of the aging process. The large variation in the chemical susceptibility of individual fatty acids to peroxidation coupled with the known differences in membrane composition between species can explain the different lifespans of species, especially the difference between mammals and birds as well as the body-size-related variation in lifespan within mammals and birds. Lifespan extension by calorie-restriction can also be explained by changes in membrane fatty acid composition which result in membranes more resistant to peroxidation. It is suggested that lifespan extension by reduced insulin/IGF signalling may also be mediated by changes in membrane fatty acid composition.