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  • A New Theory of Ageing

    The lifespan and ageing of animals was one of the topics discussed at the international conference held at the university in January about the notion of the evolution of physiological control mechanisms under the title “The evolution of mechanisms: a workshop on the integration of life-history evolution and physiology.”
    The goal of the conference, which was hosted jointly by Department of Evolutionary Zoology and Human Biology and Behavioral Ecology Research Group of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the University of Debrecen at the University of Debrecen between January 28 and 31, was to facilitate a discussion between the research fields that approach the so-called life-history traits (for example, the lifespan, ageing, stress physiology, investment in reproduction, and sexual signals of animals) and their physiological effects according to differing agendas. The four professors invited to give keynote talks covered a broad spectrum of current research topics and areas ranging from molecular biology to ecophysiology. One of the chief topics at the conference was ageing.
    “For several decades now, there has been an approach in evolutionary biology that proposes that there exist processes that cause physiological damage in living organisms, which ultimately results in their gradual ageing. There are several hundred research groups all over the world working on exploring these processes, as a result of which it has been possible to identify a number of phenomena that contribute to the advancement of senescence. However, it still remains very much an open question which of these happen to be indicators and which are causes in the process of ageing,” said bio-gerontologist David Gems in his keynote lecture. The professor from University College London (United Kingdom) presented a new theory of ageing, which he supported and illustrated through his series of experiments on nematodes called Caenorhabditis elegans.
    A New Theory of Ageing 
    Molecular biologist Thomas Flatt, a professor at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland), gave a talk on his research on the genetic background and geographical diversity of the life-history traits of fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster). Geneticist Laura Corley Lavine from Washington State University (United States) gave a presentation on the evolutionary biology and genetic mechanisms of the development of weapons of sexual selection in beetles (like, for example, the growth of antlers and mandibles). The shocking peculiarity in this system is that the same genes that are responsible for the development and growth of the antlers of stag beetles play a part in other instances in determining the growth and lifespan of mammals, for example, including humans. Last but not least, zoologists Pat Monaghan from the University of Glasgow (United Kingdom) elaborated on stress exposure experienced in early life and its long-term consequences which also influence longevity or life expectancy.
    Apart from the invited keynote lecturers, there were also several other researchers at the conference from Hungary and abroad giving an account of their most recent research findings. The topicality of the conference and the significance of its overall theme were also indicated by the fact that participants from as many as seven different countries gathered for the occasion in Debrecen.
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