Isherwood Column: On Aging, Part two
By Justin Isherwood
STEVENS POINT – Despite the fact the queen and the workers have similar genomes, all the members of the bee/ant/termite colony are offspring of queens, yet the queens maintain their vigor and activity while workers age and die. Curiously nurse bees also live longer, it has been noted that removing nurse bees from a colony and force worker bees into that function, they too then live longer.
Some of the aging process is the result of genetics. It has been found that a gene (clk1) boosts the metabolism of C. elegans (a nematode), to early reproduction and an enhanced activity level, if a 40% shorter life span. That oft mentioned candle burning at both ends, in this case, a soil nematode.
The precariousness of the environment, the number of predators (stress) in animals often means earlier reproduction, it too comes at the cost of faster aging. This “mortality thesis” is used to explain why animals with fewer predators and slower reproduction age less rapidly, such as turtles, snakes, birds. Bats live far longer than other similar mammals, 20 to 30 years, a mouse lives 1-2 years.
Aging is natural, a different rate of aging decline is also natural. Modern society has some very real questions of fairness to ask of aging. As medical science advances, ethical questions get attached to ever enhanced life spans when that span is as a non-productive worker. How does extended life span affect the retirement age, and when Social Security should commence? Do we reward stress jobs with early retirement? Do we identify human queens from short-lived worker bees?
Studies have demonstrated social insects of the same species live vastly longer lives than solitary insects. Dragonflies, grasshoppers, butterflies all live about a year, while bees and ants, live 6-10 years, termites live 20-30 years.