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Evolution and Medicine$
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Robert Perlman

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199661718

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199661718.001.0001

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Life history tradeoffs and the evolutionary biology of aging

Life history tradeoffs and the evolutionary biology of aging

(p.51) 5 Life history tradeoffs and the evolutionary biology of aging
Evolution and Medicine

Robert L. Perlman

Oxford University Press

Evolutionary life history theory provides a framework for understanding the human life cycle. Life history theory is based on the idea that organisms have limited amounts of nutrients and other resources, and that they have evolved mechanisms to allocate these resources among growth and development, reproduction, somatic (bodily) maintenance and repair, and other needs in ways that optimize their reproductive fitness. Allocation of these resources necessarily involves tradeoffs, since energy that is used for one purpose cannot then be used for another. In general, bodily maintenance and repair are not perfect, and so organisms accumulate somatic damage throughout life. The accumulation of this damage leads to the loss of cell and organ functioning, a decreasing ability to respond to stress, and an increasing risk of death. In other words, organisms age. Rates of aging are determined by the rates at which populations suffer from extrinsic mortality due to starvation, predators, or accidents. The long life span of humans evolved in concert with our ancestors’ increasing ability to ward off these extrinsic causes of death. The life course can be thought of in economic terms, in terms of the accumulation and depletion of physiological capital. Our development is not fixed but is responsive to environmental signals. In other words, we exhibit developmental plasticity. Early environmental experiences may affect our life course and so may have long-term consequences for adult health. This is the concept of developmental origins of health and disease, or DOHaD.

Keywords:   DOHaD, life cycle, life history theory, physiological capital, somatic repair

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