Ample evidence from model organisms has indicated that subtle variation in genes can dramatically influence lifespan. The key genes and molecular pathways that have been identified so far encode for metabolism, maintenance and repair mechanisms that minimize age-related accumulation of permanent damage. Here, we describe the evolutionary conserved genes that are involved in lifespan regulation of model organisms and humans, and explore the reasons of discrepancies that exist between the results found in the various species. In general, the accumulated data have revealed that when moving up the evolutionary ladder, together with an increase of genome complexity, the impact of candidate genes on lifespan becomes smaller. The presence of genetic networks makes it more likely to expect impact of variation in several interacting genes to affect lifespan in humans. Extrapolation of findings from experimental models to humans is further complicated as phenotypes are critically dependent on the setting in which genes are expressed, while laboratory conditions and modern environments are markedly dissimilar. Finally, currently used methodologies may have only little power and validity to reveal genetic variation in the population. In conclusion, although the study of model organisms has revealed potential candidate genetic mechanisms determining aging and lifespan, to what extent they explain variation in human populations is still uncertain.