Population type influences the rate of ageing

Heredity (Edinb). 2019 Aug;123(2):273-282. doi: 10.1038/s41437-019-0187-1. Epub 2019 Feb 8.


Mutation accumulation is one of the major genetic theories of ageing and predicts that the frequencies of deleterious alleles that are neutral to selection until post-reproductive years are influenced by random genetic drift. The effective population size (Ne) determines the rate of drift and in age-structured populations is a function of generation time, the number of newborn individuals and reproductive value. We hypothesise that over the last 50,000 years, the human population survivorship curve has experienced a shift from one of constant mortality and no senescence (known as a Type-II population) to one of delayed, but strong senescence (known as a Type-I population). We simulate drift in age-structured populations to explore the sensitivity of different population 'types' to generation time and contrast our results with predictions based purely on estimates of Ne. We conclude that estimates of Ne do not always accurately predict the rates of drift between populations with different survivorship curves and that survivorship curves are useful predictors of the sensitivity of a population to generation time. We find that a shift from an ancestral Type-II to a modern Type-I population coincides with an increase in the rate of drift unless accompanied by an increase in generation time. Both population type and generation time are therefore relevant to the contribution mutation accumulation makes to the genetic underpinnings of senescence.