Almost all organisms age and ageing is considered to be a normal biological process. Ageing occurs because damage to molecules, cells and tissues throughout life leads to loss of function and increased risk of death. Research can increase understanding of the human ageing process and lead to interventions that can improve health and quality of life in older people.

Curriculum links

All sciences
3. Specification content
3.6 The skills, knowledge and understanding of How science works must include the requirements set out adjacent, and must be integrated into the mandatory content indicated in the relevant appendix and any content added by the awarding body.
• Consider applications and implications of science and appreciate their associated benefits and risks.
• Consider ethical issues in the treatment of humans, other organisms and the environment.
Biology 1.3 Biodiversity
a) The variety of life, both past and present, is extensive, but the biochemical basis of life is similar for all living things.
1.6 Biological molecules
d) Enzymes catalyse a wide range of intracellular reactions as well as extracellular ones.
1.7 Ecosystems
e) The dynamic equilibrium of populations is affected by a range of factors.
1.9 Cellular control
b) Enzymes catalyse the reactions that determine structures and functions from cellular to whole-organism level.
f) Gene technologies allow study and alteration of gene function in order to better understand organism function and to design new industrial and medical processes.

Scottish Curriculum

Biology Higher Potentially relevant to modules: DNA and the Genome (study of DNA and the genome. molecular basis of evolution and biodiversity, understanding of gene expression, at the cellular level) Metabolism and Survival (control of metabolic pathways is essential to cell survival. whole organism adaptations for the maintenance of metabolism for survival)
Human Biology Higher Potentially relevant to modules: Physiology and Health (the cardiovascular system, relevant tissues and circulation and the pathology of cardiovascular disease, including their impact on society and on personal lifestyle) Neurobiology and Communication (neural communication and the links between neurotransmitters and behaviour, while considering personal and social citizenship)
Environmental Science Higher

Potentially relevant to modules: Sustainability (Global environmental issues will focus on problems, solutions and conflicts, such as population)

 



 

Why is ageing important?

What is ageing?

hands_300In the UK most people die because they are old and have succumbed to ageing related diseases and their complications. As people age, they become more susceptible to a number of illnesses that are more common in older people, including certain cancers and heart disease. Ageing occurs because damage to molecules, cells and tissues throughout life leads to loss of function and increased risk of death.

All organisms age and it is considered to be a normal biological process. Research in simple organisms (such as yeast) has found genes that play an important role in extending (or shortening) the lifespan of that individual. Importantly very similar genes have been found in other organisms (eg nematode worms, fruit flies and mice) which suggest shared ageing mechanisms across diverse species. Hopefully this means that research carried out in simpler organisms can increase understanding of the human ageing process and lead to interventions that can improve health and quality of life in older people.

An excellent introduction to the topic of ageing is given by Professor Dame Linda Partridge as part of the following webcast "Three score years and then? The new biology of ageing". (She speaks from approximately 6 minutes into the webcast).  Professor Partridge has also written a summary of the ageing process, which contains some short video and audio clips that highlight some of the issues surrounding ageing and ageing research.

Why is it important?

As our life-expectancy from birth increases, then our population as a whole gets older. The proportion of people who are over retirement age is increasing and therefore the median age of the population is also increasing. (The median age is the age at which half the population is older and half the population is younger.) This can have many consequences including:

  • Pressure on the health service as older people are more likely to be susceptible to age-related illnesses.
  • Pressure on families to care for older relatives.
  • A smaller proportion of the population working and therefore paying taxes to support the health services and paying for state pensions.
  • A greater proportion of people losing their independence and quality of life due to ill health or low income (or both).

However there will also be an increasing political influence as older people are more likely to vote than younger people.

It is important that as a society we prepare for an ageing population. It is also important that when considering treatments that extend people's life we consider the quality of life that people have.

As research continues, scientists find out more about the genes and metabolic pathways involved in ageing. In the future we may be able to treat ageing itself rather than the undesirable diseases that are associated with it.