Activity: Talk or presentation › Oral presentation › Other
Aging is a multifactorial, complex trait influenced by genetic and environmental processes. In model organisms, aging is often studied in a reductionist approach focusing on single genes to identify key-players of aging. While this approach has been instrumental in identifying several central processes, such as the cellular stress response1, its power to predict lifespan in natural populations is limited. Considering the complex nature of aging, we propose to complement the reductionist approach with a more system-oriented approach. The paradigm of catastrophic regime shifts has been applied to study the collapse of complex dynamic systems in many disciplines ranging from ecology, sociology to climatology.2 We hypothesize that the aging process in the model organism C. elegans follows the common characteristics of a complex system with death as the result of a tipping point of collapse. Moreover, the paradigm describes early warning signals that predict the occurrence of a system collapse, such as the slowing down of the recovery rate from transient perturbations as the system approaches a tipping point.3 We introduce the concept of using C. elegans stress response in combination with the paradigm of catastrophic regime shifts to study aging as a complex trait with the ultimate aim of predicting death. We show that during stress exposure, C. elegans mounts a highly dynamic response involving the expression of hundreds of genes ending at a point of no return leading to death.4 We developed a quantitative method that summarizes this vast, and complex transcriptional stress response. Using this method, we analysed the gene expression of 78 genetically diverse strains during heat shock and after a period of recovery. Our data shows that the ability of different strains to recover from heat-shock is predictive of the effect of stress on their lifespan.