About the Article: The Case for Programmed Mammal Aging and the Russian Chemical Journal special issue on aging


Azinet Aging Theory Site     The Case for Programmed Mammal Aging


In December 2008, eighteen scientists active in the field of biological aging theory received an interesting invitation. The invitation was from the Russian Chemical Journal (RCJ) and requested articles for a special issue to be devoted to a 150-year-old but still unresolved question: Is aging in humans and other mammals “programmed” or “non-programmed?” That is, are the deteriorative and ultimately fatal effects of aging a purposeful result of the organism’s genetically programmed design? Other commonly used ways of stating this same question: Is aging an adaptation in that the deteriorative effects serve some purpose and therefore are the result of evolved organism design features? Is aging the result of an active, pro-aging mechanism in the organism’s design or is aging entirely the passive result of forces acting upon the organism? Does an organism’s design fight aging, cause (or purposely allow) aging, or (as I believe) do both at different times in the organism’s life? Scientists representing both sides of the “programmed” argument were invited to participate in the project.


I submitted a pro-programmed article titled The Case for Programmed Mammal Aging in response to the invitation. The article discusses the observational evidence favoring programmed aging and the historical developments in evolution theory that led to formulation and wide acceptance of non-programmed theories. Recent empirical findings and recent thinking regarding evolution mechanisms, both of which favor programmed aging, are also described. Because the special issue will likely be read by a diverse audience the article avoided arcane terminology and included substantial background material. (The request specified rather long articles and the journal is published in both Russian and English.)


My assessment of the situation in 2008 was that current scientific evidence strongly favored the pro-programmed position but that the majority of gerontologists and other bioscientists still held the non-programmed view, which was favored by earlier science. Further, the pro-programmed faction consisted mainly of people who were relatively junior in terms of academic pecking order where the non-programmed faction included more senior and influential people. My colleagues and I in the pro-programmed group often felt that in the field of aging theory, better science was being overshadowed by tradition, popularity, and seniority. We struggled to raise awareness of this issue to the point where a serious, unbiased, and widely respected scientific assessment based on current evidence would occur. The RCJ special issue is a major step in this direction by acknowledging the programmed/non-programmed problem and enabling a wide audience to examine a side-by-side comparison of logical arguments by both factions.


The sort of situation described above is hardly unusual in academic science but the duration of this particular question is surprising to many people. Aging is, after all, rather significant to most people’s lives. How could it be that we have achieved so many amazing scientific and medical accomplishments and still have not determined even the fundamental nature of aging? In addition, as my article describes, this question has some potentially large implications regarding future medical treatments for age-related diseases and conditions and is therefore of much more than “academic” interest.


T. Goldsmith 3/2009