While it is important to search for unifying mechanisms of aging among a variety of model systems, evolutionary arguments suggest that the pathophysiological details of senescence may be, to some extent, species specific. Moreover, in species that are characterized by extensive genetic heterogeneity, such as our own, one is likely to find kindreds with both "private" and "public" markers of aging. Crude estimates of the number of loci with the potential to modulate aspects of the senescent phenotype of man suggest that thousands of genes could be involved. No single locus appears to modulate all features. Some affect predominantly a single aspect ("unimodal progeroid syndromes"); familial Alzheimer's disease is discussed as a prototype. Linkage studies indicate genetic heterogeneity for autosomal dominant forms of the disease. Some loci affect multiple aspects of the phenotype ("segmental progeroid disorders"); the prototype is Werner's syndrome, an autosomal recessive. Cells from homozygotes behave like mutator strains and undergo accelerated senescence in vitro. Elucidation of the biochemical genetic basis of such abiotrophic disorders may shed light on specific aging processes in man.