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MINI-REVIEW: When and How Can Death Be an Adaptation?

E. R. Galimov1, J. N. Lohr1, and D. Gems1,a*

1Institute of Healthy Ageing, Research Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, University College London, London WC1E 6BT, UK

* To whom correspondence should be addressed.

Received July 2, 2019; Revised August 24, 2019; Accepted August 24, 2019
The concept of phenoptosis (or programmed organismal death) is problematic with respect to most species (including humans) since it implies that dying of old age is an adaptation, which contradicts the established evolutionary theory. But can dying ever be a strategy to promote fitness? Given recent developments in our understanding of the evolution of altruism, particularly kin and multilevel selection theories, it is timely to revisit the possible existence of adaptive death. Here, we discuss how programmed death could be an adaptive trait under certain conditions found in organisms capable of clonal colonial existence, such as the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae and, perhaps, the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. The concept of phenoptosis is only tenable if consistent with the evolutionary theory; this accepted, phenoptosis may only occur under special conditions that do not apply to most animal groups (including mammals).
KEY WORDS: adaptive death, aging, altruism, C. elegans, evolution, inclusive fitness

DOI: 10.1134/S0006297919120010