FRAR course on laboratory approaches to aging. Genetic influences on aging in mammals and invertebrates.
A central theme underlies this review: "Genetics offers an important tool for identifying key molecular events that are involved in specifying biological functions." This approach has been used repeatedly to understand such diverse biological phenomena as oncogenesis, development, and the cell cycle, but has only recently been applied to the analysis of organismic aging and senescence. The power of the genetic approach lies in the ability to integrate phenomena that are displayed at multiple observational levels (i.e., from the molecular to the whole organism), and the power to reveal causal factors that are not dependent upon the prejudice of the investigator. I discuss several areas where genetics has been fruitfully applied to the study of the aging processes: human genes identified by "segmental progeroid" mutations; neurological diseases of the elderly; the limited proliferative life span of human somatic cells in tissue culture; studies on the life span of the mouse; and genetic analysis of life span in shorter-lived metazoans (Drosophila melanogaster and Caenorhabditis elegans), and the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae.