Constant mortality and fertility over age in Hydra
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 112:51, 15701–15706 (2015)
Senescence, the increase in mortality and decline in fertility with age after maturity, was thought to be inevitable for all multicellular species capable of repeated breeding. Recent theoretical advances and compilations of data suggest that mortality and fertility trajectories can go up or down, or remain constant with age, but the data are scanty and problematic. Here, we present compelling evidence for constant age-specific death and reproduction rates in Hydra, a basal metazoan, in a set of experiments comprising more than 3.9 million days of observations of individual Hydra. Our data show that 2,256 Hydra from two closely related species in two laboratories in 12 cohorts, with cohort age ranging from 0 to more than 41 y, have extremely low, constant rates of mortality. Fertility rates for Hydra did not systematically decline with advancing age. This falsifies the universality of the theories of the evolution of aging that posit that all species deteriorate with age after maturity. The nonsenescent life history of Hydra implies levels of maintenance and repair that are sufficient to prevent the accumulation of damage for at least decades after maturity, far longer than the short life expectancy of Hydra in the wild. A high proportion of stem cells, constant and rapid cell turnover, few cell types, a simple body plan, and the fact that the germ line is not segregated from the soma are characteristics of Hydra that may make nonsenescence feasible. Nonsenescence may be optimal because lifetime reproduction may be enhanced more by extending adult life spans than by increasing daily fertility.