The Expensive Germline and the Evolution of Ageing
Summary: The trade-off between survival and reproduction is the bedrock of the evolutionary theory of ageing. The reproductive system regulates ageing of the soma, and removal of germ cells extends somatic lifespan and increases resistance to a broad variety of abiotic and biotic stresses. The general explanation for this somatic response is that reduced reproduction frees up resources for survival. Remarkably, however, the disruption of molecular signaling pathways that regulate ageing increases lifespan without the obligatory reduction in fecundity, thus challenging the key role of the survival–reproduction trade-off. Here, we review the diverse literature on the costs of lifespan extension and suggest that the current paradigm is overly centered on the trade-off between lifespan and fecundity, often neglecting key aspects of fitness, such as development time, defense against parasites and, in particular, the high costs of germline maintenance. Compromised germline maintenance increases germline mutation rate, which reduces offspring fitness and ultimately can terminate germline proliferation across generations. We propose that future work should incorporate the costs of germline maintenance in the study of ageing evolution, as well as in applied biomedical research, by assessing offspring fitness.