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PLOS ONE  2011 

Change and Aging Senescence as an Adaptation

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0024328

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Abstract:

Understanding why we age is a long-lived open problem in evolutionary biology. Aging is prejudicial to the individual, and evolutionary forces should prevent it, but many species show signs of senescence as individuals age. Here, I will propose a model for aging based on assumptions that are compatible with evolutionary theory: i) competition is between individuals; ii) there is some degree of locality, so quite often competition will be between parents and their progeny; iii) optimal conditions are not stationary, and mutation helps each species to keep competitive. When conditions change, a senescent species can drive immortal competitors to extinction. This counter-intuitive result arises from the pruning caused by the death of elder individuals. When there is change and mutation, each generation is slightly better adapted to the new conditions, but some older individuals survive by chance. Senescence can eliminate those from the genetic pool. Even though individual selection forces can sometimes win over group selection ones, it is not exactly the individual that is selected but its lineage. While senescence damages the individuals and has an evolutionary cost, it has a benefit of its own. It allows each lineage to adapt faster to changing conditions. We age because the world changes.

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