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The Szilard Hypothesis on the Nature of Aging Revisited

By Henrik Zetterberg, Magnus Båth, Madeleine Zetterberg, Peter Bernhardt and Ola Hammarsten


This year marks the 50th anniversary of a nearly forgotten hypothesis on aging by Leo Szilard, best known for his pioneering work in nuclear physics, his participation in the Manhattan Project during World War II, his opposition to the nuclear arms race in the postwar era, and his pioneering ideas in biology. Given a specific set of assumptions, Szilard hypothesized that the major reason for the phenomenon of aging was aging hits, e.g., by ionizing radiation, to the gene-bearing chromosomes and presented a mathematical target-hit model enabling the calculation of the average and maximum life span of a species, as well as the influence of increased exposure to DNA-damaging factors on life expectancy. While many new findings have cast doubt on the specific features of the model, this was the first serious effort to posit accumulated genetic damage as a cause of senescence. Here, we review Szilard's assumptions in the light of current knowledge on aging and reassess his mathematical model in an attempt to reach a conclusion on the relevance of Szilard's aging hypothesis today

Topics: Perspectives
Publisher: Genetics Society of America
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Provided by: PubMed Central
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