It has been suggested that mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) may play an important role in aging. Yet, few empirical studies have tested this hypothesis, partly because the degree of sequence polymorphism in mtDNA is assumed to be low. However, low sequence variation may not necessarily translate into low phenotypic variation. Here, we report an experiment that tests whether there is within-population variation in cytoplasmic genes for female longevity and senescence. To achieve this, we randomly selected 25 “mitochondrial founders” from a single, panmictic population of Drosophila melanogaster and used these founders to generate distinct “mt” lines in which we controlled for the nuclear background by successive backcrossing. Potential confounding effects of cytoplasmically transmitted bacteria were eliminated by tetracycline treatment. The mt lines were then assayed for differences in longevity, Gompertz intercept (frailty), and demographic rate of change in mortality with age (rate-of-senescence) in females. We found significant cytoplasmic effects on all three variables. This provides evidence that genetic variation in cytoplasmic genes, presumably mtDNA, contributes to variation in female mortality and aging.
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Vol. 60 • No. 10