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Understanding ageing

Holliday, R.
CSIRO Division of Biomolecular Engineering, Sydney Laboratory, North Ryde, NSW, Australia.

A broad biological approach makes it possible to understand why ageing exists and also why different mammalian species have very different maximum longevities. The adult organism is maintained in a functional state by at least ten major mechanisms, which together comprise a substantial proportion of all biological processes. These maintenance mechanisms eventually fail, because the evolved physiological and anatomical design of higher animals is incompatible with continual survival. The lifespan of each mammalian species depends on the efficiency of maintenance of their cells, tissues and organisms, and there is much evidence that such maintenance is more effective in long-lived species, such as man, than in short-lived small mammals. It is also evident that there is an inverse relationship between reproductive potential and longevity, which would be expected if total metabolic resources are shared between investment in reproduction, and investment in the preservation of the adult body. It is proposed that the eventual failure of maintenance leads to the pathological changes seen in age-associated disease. Although we now have a biological understanding of the ageing process, much future research will be needed to uncover the cellular and molecular changes which give rise to age-associated diseases. The major aim of such research is to devise procedures to delay or prevent the onset of these diseases.

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 1997;352(1363):1793-1797.

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