How a fruit fly could help you in old age

Aging Cell
November 21, 2003

These days, after what is often a long and difficult gestation, a new journal is born into a world full of uncertainties. First, the population explosion. A quick electronic search reveals more than 20 journals that deal with various aspects of ageing, not to mention the innumerable articles on this subject that appear in medical or science journals. And however healthy the infant is at birth, it faces a very insecure future.

Following a major period of discontent on the part of the scientific community with the costs and effectiveness of scientific publishing, there is a major drive to provide open access to the scientific literature, making it free for anybody who wishes to read it. Led by bodies such as the Public Library of Science, this admirable goal may well be achieved. But progress always has its downsides; future generations may never know the satisfaction of nursing a well-produced scientific journal or even, perish the thought, a book.

So what are the prospects for Aging Cell? Together with the neurosciences and developmental biology, an exploration of the mechanisms of ageing is likely to be one of the most exciting fields of research in the new millennium. Already, important insights into some of the broad mechanisms of ageing have been obtained from work on worms and fruit flies, and although it is a big evolutionary jump from geriatric flies to ageing humans, some of the basic principles may be the same.

Ageing, and the management of the aged, is going to pose major problems for those who deliver health services in the future. All the important killers of western society - ranging from heart attacks and stroke, through diabetes to cancer - reach their maximum frequency at a time when their pathogenesis must be tied up with the biological changes of ageing. Hence this topic offers a wide range of questions, ranging from the basic biology of ageing to our very limited knowledge about the pathology and sociology of increasing age. In short, if there was to be a right time for a multidisciplinary new journal in this field to be born, it is now.

The editors, in their introductory editorial, which, symbolic of their field, is to be found in issue two of the first volume, stress that the birth of this journal reflects the exciting developments in genetics and molecular and cell biology that have transformed the field of ageing research over the past ten years. They stress the enormous breadth of the field, describing how the editorial board has had to be divided over seven principal research areas, each led by a separate section editor. Wisely in such a rapidly expanding field, it appears that the journal is destined to carry a mix of up-to-date reviews, with a focus on particularly controversial areas, together with original articles. The lively "head-to-head" debate on the mitochondrial theory of ageing in an early issue is certainly a good start in this direction. And as well as the quality of the reviews, many of which will be easily accessible to non-specialists in the field, the journal also seems to have got off to a good start with the unusually high quality of its original articles, illustrations and overall appearance.

If the post-genomic era is going to live up to its medical expectations it will have to develop close ties between molecular and whole-organism biology, particularly in highly complex fields such as ageing. Certainly, as judged by the issues of this journal over its first year of life, its editors seem to have appreciated the importance of an interactive approach of this type. Already papers have appeared on almost every model system of ageing, including zebrafish, bats and fruit flies, and these are nicely balanced by some useful reviews on both the mechanisms and pathology of human ageing. A promising start indeed.

One minor carp. Considering that its aspirations seem to be much broader than the cell biology of ageing, the journal's title seems to be at odds with its objectives.

However, on the cover of every issue the words "ageing" and "cell" appear in different colours such that the word "cell" stands out and hits the reader (particularly those who are colour blind) in the eye. In this subliminal way, the infant journal almost appears to be the offspring of a venerable journal of the same name. Perhaps when it comes of age, and as judged by its early vigour this seems very likely, Aging Cell might emulate the world of Hollywood and change its name to something more in keeping with its breadth of appeal.

Sir David Weatherall was formerly regius professor of medicine, University of Oxford.

Aging Cell

Editor - Tim Cowen, Marc Tatar and Simon Melov
Publisher - Blackwell, bi-monthly
Price - Institutions: £397.00 Individuals: £75.00
ISBN - 474 9718 (print)1474 9728 (online)

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