Invertebrate gerontology: The age mutations of Caenorhabditis elegans

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Abstract

Ageing is a complex phenomenon which remains a major challenge to modern biology. Although the evolutionary biology of ageing is well understood, the mechanisms that limit lifespan are unknown. The isolation and analysis of single-gene mutations which extend lifespan (Age mutations) is likely to reveal processes which influence ageing. Caenorhabditis elegans is the only metazoan in which Age mutations have been identified. The Age mutations not only prolong life, but also confer a complex array of other phenotypes. Some of these phenotypes provide clues to the evolutionary origins of these genes while others allude to mechanisms of lifespan-extension. Many of the Age genes interact and share a second common phenotype, that of stress resistance. Rather than invertebrate ageing being determined by a ‘clock mechanism’, a picture is emerging of ageing as a non-adaptive process determined, in part, by resistance to intrinsic stress mediated by stress-response genes.

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