Aging may play a crucial role in our evolution: ScienceAlert

Aging may play a crucial role in our evolution: ScienceAlert

Getting older may come with more aches and pains, but new research suggests there’s a bigger picture to look at: By reaching old age, we may actually be helping our species evolve.

Aging, once assumed to be an inevitable consequence of living in a harsh and unpredictable world, is now considered something of a mystery. Some species barely age at all, for example. One big question is whether aging is just a byproduct of biology, or something that comes with an evolutionary advantage.

The new research is based on a computer model developed by a team from the HUN-REN Environmental Research Center in Hungary, which suggests that aging can be positively selected for in the same way as other traits.

In recent years, scientists have investigated the inevitability of aging and the associated deterioration of the body (technically known as senescence). What the model suggests is that in certain situations, it can be beneficial to the species.

“Aging could have an evolutionary function if there is selection for aging,” says evolutionary biologist Iwerz Szathmary, of the HUN-REN Center for Environmental Research. “We aim to uncover that choice.”

Such situations require strong directional selection, where evolutionary pressures (such as predators or environmental change) direct traits in a fixed direction; Relative selection is important, as genes have a greater chance of being passed on through the help of relatives.

“For example, it is possible that in a changing environment, aging and mortality are more beneficial to individuals, because in this way competition can be reduced, which hinders the survival and reproduction of more adaptable strains with better genetic combinations,” he says. Szathmary.

In other words, normal aging and death leave room for a new generation that may have better sets of genes.

The researchers also suggest that in highly altruistic organisms, having more generations that endure long aging would be favored by kin selection. In other words, those who help their relatives create a new generation often have their long-lived genes passed on to them.

While humans as a species may be obsessed with stopping aging, aging appears to play an important role in terms of evolutionary advantage – a role that experts are still trying to explore and understand.

“It has become accepted in the evolutionary biology community that classical non-adaptive theories of aging cannot explain all patterns of aging in nature, which means that the explanation of aging is once again an open question,” Szathmary says.

The research was published in BMC Biology.

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