A new study says chimps, gorillas and other primates grow old gracefully much like humans. The findings come from the first-ever multi-species comparison of primate aging patterns reported in the March 11 issue of Science.
It was long thought that humans, who have relatively long life spans, age more slowly than other animals. But new research funded by the National Science Foundation's Division of Environmental Biology suggests the pace of human aging may not be so unique after all.
We had good reason to think human aging was unique, said co-author Anne Bronikowski of Iowa State University. Humans, for example, live longer than many animals with some exceptions--parrots, seabirds, clams and tortoises. But humans are the longest-lived primates.
"Humans live for many more years past our reproductive prime," Bronikowski said. "If we were like other mammals, we would start dying fairly rapidly after we reach mid-life. But we don't."
Bronikowski is one of 11 biologists and anthropologists whose research figured into the study.
"There's been this argument in the scientific literature for a long time that human aging was unique, but we didn't have data on aging in wild primates besides chimps until recently," said another co-author Susan Alberts, a Duke University biologist.
The researchers combined data from long-term studies of seven species of wild primates: capuchin monkeys from Costa Rica, muriqui monkeys from Brazil, baboons and blue monkeys from Kenya, chimpanzees from Tanzania, gorillas from Rwanda, and sifaka lemurs from Madagascar.
The work focused on the risk of dying. When researchers compared human aging rates--measured as the rate at which mortality risk increases with age--to similar data for nearly 3,000 individual monkeys, apes, and lemurs. The human data fell neatly within the primate continuum.
"Human patterns are not strikingly different, even though wild primates exper
|Contact: Bobbie Mixon|
National Science Foundation