The maintenance gap: a new theoretical perspective on the evolution of aging
Keywords: evolution, senescence
One of the prevailing theories of aging, the disposable soma theory, views aging as the result of the accumulation of damage through imperfect maintenance. Aging, then, is explained from an evolutionary perspective by asserting that this lack of maintenance exists because the required resources are better invested in reproduction. However, the amount of maintenance necessary to prevent aging, ‘maintenance requirement’ has so far been largely neglected and has certainly not been considered from an evolutionary perspective. To our knowledge we are the first to do so, and arrive at the conclusion that all maintenance requirement needs an evolutionary explanation. Increases in maintenance requirement can only be selected for if these are linked with either higher fecundity or better capabilities to cope with environmental challenges to the integrity of the organism. Several observations are suggestive of the latter kind of trade-off, the existence of which leads to the inevitable conclusion that the level of maintenance requirement is in principle unbound. Even the allocation of all available resources to maintenance could be unable to stop aging in some organisms. This has major implications for our understanding of the aging process on both the evolutionary and the mechanistic level. It means that the expected effect of measures to reallocate resources to maintenance from reproduction may be small in some species. We need to have an idea of how much maintenance is necessary in the first place. Our explorations of how natural selection is expected to act on the maintenance requirement provides the first step in understanding this.