Live Long and Procreate

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Science  17 Jun 2011:
Vol. 332, Issue 6036, pp. 1361
DOI: 10.1126/science.332.6036.1361-c

Speaking in generalities, once an animal leaves its reproductive phase, death is around the corner. Exceptions to this rule can be seen in humans, where postreproductive females continue to assist offspring and often subsequent generations. Another exception seems to be the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. In C. elegans populations, only a small percentage of worms exist as males, with the majority of worms being self-fertilizing hermaphrodites. Hermaphrodites can live 70% of their life after bearing all their progeny. Because there was no clear explanation for why this would be, Mendenhall et al. explored the fertility of hermaphrodites mated with young males. They found that progeny could be generated by this method much later than “selfed” progeny, up to day 18, which corresponds to the animals' average life span. “Old” gonads reactivated when worms were mated in later life, and reproductive capacity was enhanced upon starvation or dietary reduction.

J. Gerontol. A Biol. Sci. Med. Sci. 66A, 10.1093/gerona/glr089 (2011).

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