Received June 26, 2017
Based upon evolvability theory, phenotypes like aging that offer no apparent individual benefit may evolve nonetheless. Pursuant to that concept, the evolution of a hypothetical, genome-based aging program called phenoptosis was proposed. However, while aging may facilitate evolvability, it need not result from a program specifically selected for that purpose. Instead, it is possible that the potential for aging is conserved within the genome as a part of a beneficial program that orchestrates and integrates developmental transformation of the soma from conception to maturation. Because somatic remodeling is inherently unstable, its continued non-programmatic expression beyond young adulthood (developmental inertia) erodes internal order, initiating and exacerbating aging. Thus, aging may result paradoxically from post-maturational expression of the same programmatic function for somatic transformation that previously provided individual benefit. It did so by ensuring acquisition of reproductive competence, post-reproductive development of parents to nurture offspring and thereby, to guarantee species survival. In an attempt to identify genes capable of controlling developmental inertia, we sequenced DNA from a series of subjects displaying extreme neoteny, i.e. retention of youthful characteristics during adulthood. We hoped to identify mutations associated with delayed development and to compare each subject’s biological and chronological ages. De novo mutations of coding-genes were found in all the subjects, but they could not be definitively identified as a cause of developmental delay. Nonetheless, genetic and epigenetic studies of neotenic subject’s DNA are on-going. We are attempting to determine if phenoptosis specifically evolved to cause aging, or rather if it exists as a cryptic component of the developmental program that expresses its lethal potential serendipitously and only after individual benefit is realized.
KEY WORDS: developmental inertia, temporal order, neoteny, homeodynamics, somatic transformation, DNA sequencing