Molecular mechanisms underlying sex and ageing

Main image for Molecular mechanisms underlying sex and ageing

Female fruit flies, marked with paint on the thorax for individual identification.

The natural world shows us that, all else being equal, there is usually a negative relationship between longevity and reproduction: animals tend to be either fast reproducers or long-lived. This pattern is nearly ubiquitous and can be seen in worms, flies, mice and humans. Our lab draws together molecular mechanisms and life-history theory to explain why these patterns exist.

The amount of energy and material resources that animals can obtain are limited, so they can either invest them in maintaining their body for a long life or they can invest them in lots of mating and offspring production – but not both. Alternatively, the efforts of mating and producing offspring might cause irreversible damage to the body that ultimately leads to its decline. Either way, evolutionary theories predict that eternal life and high rates of fecundity should be impossible. We use Drosophila melanogaster to investigate this relationship between lifespan and reproduction.  We are testing the genetic links between the regulation of lifespan and the regulation of sex, exploring how the expression of lifespan-regulating genes affects costs of mating and reproduction, and determining to what extent sex-specific behaviours explain differences in longevity between males and females.