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BOOK REVIEW Understanding Ageing. By Robin Holliday. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1995. Pp. 207. $64.95 hardback; $24.95 paperback. Although the last sentence of this book reads "a search for the elixir of life is as fanciful as that for the transmutation of other metals into gold," this book has a strong positive outlook about aging. Through that sentence we are again reminded that attaining immortality and eternal youth is an illusion, because sooner or later all individuals die out. To be able to state things so clearly, one needs to first go through a longjourney of mastering the huge body of information in die subject, and then assimilate, synthesize, and develop a cohesive image of a complex and multi-dimensional phenomenon such as aging. Robin Holliday has been able to do exactly that. He has produced a scholarly treatise on a subject that has fascinated and challenged human beings from time immemorial. In modern times of highly competitive research, it is not often that creative and still active scientists such as Holliday devote time to contemplate a subject in its totality and come up with a concise synthesis. As is expected from such a singleauthor book, this is a personalized viewpoint of a scientist who has spent more Ulan three decades doing original research on the subject. Holliday correctly disclaims this book to be a comprehensive review of the field of aging. Instead, he states his aim as to present a particular point of view and argument in the framework of "failure of maintenance" as a generalized and functional definition of aging. Unlike most other authors, Holliday does not consider aging as a major unsolved problem in biology. He argues forcefully that the biological bases of aging are now well understood. Numerous experimental and descriptive studies have, by and large, established what happens in cells, tissues, organs, and organisms during aging. Volumes of data are available that list structural, physiological, biochemical, and, more recently, molecular changes in a wide variety of experimental systems undergoing aging. Togedier, these data build up a gross picture of the biology underlying die aging process. Instead of giving long lists of data regarding agerelated changes in this and that organ, tissue, or cell type, the data are analyzed in the context of maintenance processes and dreir inability to keep working forever (Chapters 1-3). Even the discussion of die theories of aging (Chapter 4) is presented in the framework of aging as a failure of maintenance. This is a useful shift from the traditional division of theories of aging into programmed and stochastic theories, and is very helpful in understanding the process of aging in its totality. Chapter 5 on cellular aging is one of the most important chapters in the book. This is because the significance of the knowledge gained from studies on cellular Permission to reprint a book review printed in this section may be obtained only from the author. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 39, 3 ¦ Spring 1996 459 aging in vitro in understanding the process of aging in vivo is often underestimated. One of the reasons for this is the mistaken notion that post-mitotic cells in an organism are more important with respect to aging than those still capable to proliferate. In all such assumptions, an important biological fact is generally ignored that dividing cell compartments, such as epithelial cells, epidermal basal cells, fibroblasts, bone marrow cells, lymphocytes, osteoblasts, myoblasts, and glial cells, constitute some of the most crucial systems of an organism. Even in the case of proliferating cells it is not only their differentiated and specialized functions that are critical for the organism; their capacity to divide is an integral part of their role in the growth, development, maintenance, and survival of the organism. A loss of proliferative capacity of such cell types has pluripotent and global deteriorative impacts on the functioning and survival of the organism. Chapters 6 and 7 deal with the discussion of the nature of gerontogenes and the genetic processes involved in aging, transformation, and programmed cell death. Issues regarding the evolution oflimited lifespan of the somatic cells and the preservation of the germ line in the context of maintenance mechanisms are...


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