Aging is one of the greatest challenges for biomedical research in the developed world. The continuing increase in lifespan without accompanying increases in health span has extreme economic and societal implications for an aging society. The majority of adult‐onset diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer's are a direct consequence of aging, and with changing demographics, more and more people are afflicted. If we knew how to slow down the negative effects of aging, we could delay or prevent all of these diseases at once. We therefore need to understand the underlying molecular mechanisms of aging and longevity so as to develop applications that ultimately improve health span.
During the past two decades, the field of aging biology has made spectacular advances in finding and explaining important aging‐regulating mechanisms, such as insulin/Igf1 signaling, TOR, and telomere maintenance. This progress would have been impossible without model organisms, the workhorses of genetics, and molecular biology. Most of our knowledge about the mechanisms of aging has been obtained thanks to the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans, the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, and the house mouse Mus musculus. These organisms have been extensively used by biologists, are very well characterized, and easy to maintain. Indeed, with the exception of C. elegans, these species have been welcome or unwelcome human companions long before the era of modern science. The genomes of these organisms were among the first to be sequenced, and there is an impressive arsenal of precise tools for genetic manipulation available for each species.
However, these “canonical” model organisms have their limitations. Yeasts are tremendous genetic systems and have provided fundamental insights on cellular aging, but they prevent studies on multicellular and systemic aging. Nematode worms and flies, whose lifespan is extremely short—2–3 weeks for the worm …
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