Sunday, June 17, 2007

The evolutionary biology of aging: Zimmer's links

In a quite brief post Carl (The Loom) Zimmer gives us a small set of brilliant links into the modern evolutionary biology of aging. Absolutely fascinating. I've long thought one of the most instructive examples of mammalian aging lived right by our feet, so I jumped right to the entry on Canis familiaris. It's weaker than it should be. It records the far end of canine longevity (at least 24 years, possibly 29) but misses the Great Dane -- old by six years. (One might argue breeding Danes is a crime despite their charm and beauty.)

That's a pretty impressive range for one species -- 400%. Should be some lessons there.

Wolves, by comparison, seem to live fairly readily to age 16-19 in captivity. This suggests we ought to be able to breed a mid-sized dog that would have at least 16 healthy years. That's much better than our genetically abused companions get these days. I'd like to see a derivation of the Australian cattle dog bred for long life but a more family friendly temperament.

Update: By the way. Delayed sexual maturation is a marker for longer lifespan. The age of menarche has fallen from about 16 to about 12 in the past forty years. Draw your own conclusions ...

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