A recently reported research study seems to throw the whole the the oxidative damage theory of aging into question, at least for C. elegans, a nematode roundworm. The researchers created a mutant species by individually knocking out five genes in these worms that confer a natural antioxidative effect, e.g. the production of SOD a detoxifying enzyme. The worms lived just as long despite the compromise in their ability to handle oxidative damage. And when one of the genes was knocked out the worms lived actually longer, probably due to alteration of mitochondrial function. Does this kill the venerable Oxidative damage aging theory, the granddaddy of all the aging theories? Should we stop taking oxidants? Not at all. There is too much evidence behind that theory and over the years it has provided too useful a model for many aging phenomena. And the beneficial effects of taking antioxidants are well established.
Longevity is not the only area of science where it is useful to keep multiple theories alive despite the fact that they are sometimes inconsistent with evidence and with each other. The prime example is relativity theory and quantum theory in physics, both of which have enabled enormous strides in physics, engineering, astronomy and technology for over a century now. These two theories have never been reconciled despite prodigious mathematical efforts to do so. In an interesting article in The March 2009 Scientific American, A Quantum Threat to Special Relativity, it is argued that the quantum theory and special relativity theory are in fact incompatible and contradictory at the most basic level. No way either of these theories will be thrown out however – not until a more comprehensive theory comes along that subsumes it. The theories are just too useful. I think the same is true with theories of aging – all 14 theories covered in my Anti-Aging Firewalls treatise. It will be incredible, in fact, if we can manage to get those theories down to two or three more basic ones.