Fixation of deleterious alleles, evolution and human aging

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8 Scopus citations


Human aging, like everything else in biology, only makes sense in the context of evolution. There is substantial agreement among evolutionary geneticists regarding the evolutionary underpinnings of one of the main questions of human aging i.e. 'Why do we age?', which involves the higher rate of fixation of alleles that cause deleterious post-reproductive phenotypes vs. alleles that cause deleterious pre-reproductive phenotypes. Even higher rates of fixation of deleterious mutations are predicted to occur on population genetic grounds in two non-recombinant genomes in humans i.e. the Y chromosome, and the mitochondrial genome. The added burden of deleterious mutations on the Y may explain the reduced average lifespan of males vs. females. A high predicted fixation rate of the mitochondrial genome may explain its fast rate of evolution, and the high frequency of mitochondrial disease in relationship to this genomes' small size, and may underlie the transfer of mitochondrial genes over evolutionary time to the nucleus. Thus a molecular evolutionary model of aging which focuses on increased fixation rates of (1) nuclear alleles which only have deleterious effects post-reproduction, (2) deleterious genes on the Y chromosome, and (3) deleterious genes on the mitochondrial genome, makes multiple testable predictions about the causes and mechanisms of aging.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)851-855
Number of pages5
JournalMechanisms of Ageing and Development
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 30 2002


  • Fixation
  • Mutation
  • Population genetics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aging
  • Biochemistry
  • Developmental Biology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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