Aging, evolvability, and the individual benefit requirement; medical implications of aging theory controversies

J Theor Biol. 2008 Jun 21;252(4):764-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jtbi.2008.02.035. Epub 2008 Mar 3.


There is a class of theories of aging (variously termed adaptive aging, aging by design, aging selected for its own sake, or programmed death theories) that hold that an organism design that limits life span conveys benefits and was selected specifically because it limits life span. These theories have enjoyed a resurgence of popularity because of the discovery of genes that promote aging in various organisms. However, traditional evolution theory has a core tenet that excludes the possibility of evolving and retaining an individually adverse organism design, i.e. a design characteristic that reduces the ability of individual organisms to survive or reproduce without any compensating individual benefit. Various theories of aging dating from the 1950s and based on traditional evolution theory enjoy substantial popularity. Therefore, any theorist proposing an adaptive theory of aging must necessarily also propose some adjustment to traditional evolution theory that specifically addresses the individual benefit issue. This paper describes an adaptive theory of aging and describes how one of the proposed adjustments (evolvability theory) supports adaptive aging. This issue is important because adaptive theories are generally more optimistic regarding prospects for medical intervention in the aging process and also suggest different approaches in achieving such intervention.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological / genetics
  • Aging / genetics*
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Genetic Variation
  • Mortality