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Abstract

How we age and what we can do about it have been uppermost in human thought since antiquity. The many false starts have frustrated experimentalists and theoretical arguments pronouncing the inevitability of the process have created a nihilistic climate among scientists and the public. The identification of single gene alterations that substantially extend life span in nematodes and flies however, have begun to reinvigorate the field. Drosophila's long history of contributions to aging research, rich storehouse of genetic information, and powerful molecular techniques make it an excellent system for studying the molecular mechanisms underlying the process of aging. In recent years, Drosophila has been used to test current theories on aging and explore new directions of potential importance to the biology of aging. One such example is the surprising finding that, as opposed to the commonly held assumption that adult life is a period of random passive decline in which all things are thought to fall apart, the molecular life of the adult fly appears to be a state of dynamic well-regulated change. In the fly, the level of expression of many different genes changes in an invariant, often age-dependent, manner. These as well as other molecular genetic studies and demographic analyses using the fly have begun to challenge widely held ideas about aging providing evidence that aging may be a much more dynamic and malleable process than anticipated. With the enormous success that Drosophila molecular genetics has demonstrated in helping understand complex biological phenomena such as development there is much optimism that similar approaches can be adapted to assist in understanding the process of aging. BioEssays 25:134–141, 2003. © 2003 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.