A new theory from Dr Valter Longo, an expert in aging at the University of Southern California, hinges on the concept of “group selection”. It suggests that aging is no accident, but deliberately programmed in order to clear the way for new generations with beneficial mutations in their genes.
Dr Longo based the idea on observations of baker’s yeast, a simple organism that, nonetheless, has the same molecular pathways regulating life-span as mice and possibly humans.
“The organisms we have studied die long before they have to in order to provide nutrients for ‘mutants’ generated within their own population. Thus, billions of organisms die early so that a few better-adapted individuals can grow.”
It was possible that a similar principle applied to humans, resulting in people’s lives being cut short.
“Programmed human aging is just a possibility; we don’t know whether it’s true yet or not,” said Dr Longo. “But if aging is programmed in yeast, and the pathway is very similar, then isn’t it possible that humans also die earlier than they have to?”
Dr Longo, whose findings appear in the Journal of Cell Biology, said he realised his theory went against some of the fundamental tenets of Darwinian evolution.