Aging, Fertility, and Evolution

The world’s population is aging (mostly excluding sub-Saharan Africa however). Perhaps the most alarming example of the challenge this demographic trend creates for policy-makers is the “one-two-four” problem it could cause for China and it’s one child policy: in the face of an aging population, one child might have to care for two parents and four grandparents.

There are other, more quotidian, examples of the challenges an aging population represents for different societies, and how this trend will affect any given people depends on a myriad of other factors. Nevertheless, aging will undoubtedly be one of the biggest challenges facing our generation.

Perhaps ironically, the medical world also sees aging as one of the primary challenges of the time, but in a whole difference sense. Not only is it a fact that we are getting older, we are trying as hard as we can to make sure we can live to even older.

All of this has certainly generated a great deal of activity and exciting advances in how societies cope with aging, in both aspects. And although we’re starting to understand it at even a molecular level (something about telomeres and such), the phenomenon of aging is really still a bit of a mystery. One of its more mysterious aspects, in my opinion, is the evolutionary side. Why do organisms age, and how does evolution shape average life-spans? (How much is selection? How does it operate? How much is drift? Etc?)

These questions might be a bit up-stream from the main interest of this blog, but here’s an interesting piece on the evolutionary biology of aging.

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