Project Gilgamesh, like SENS, endorses a stochastic theory of aging – a theory that aging is primarily the result of the entropic deterioration of biological systems. The primary contender to stochastic theories of aging are the so-called programmed theories. Programmed theories of aging advance that aging is an inherent feature of biological systems – “programmed” within the genome of the organism. These theories naturally place aging in the context of evolution – a perspective from which aging and death are often advanced as conferring fitness to species on the premise of promoting evolvability. Such theories, termed group selection or supra-individual selection, notwithstanding the controversy surrounding their relevance among evolutionary biologist, cannot be dismissed as evolutionary possibilities. It is plausible, given the time scale of the evolutionary process, that events on all levels – even life span – have been endogenized within the evolutionary framework.
The research of scientists like Vladimir Skulachev and Giacinto Libertini has proffered such spectacular cases of programmed organismal death or phenoptosis that it is worthwhile to consider aging as a possible manifestation of such death events. Phenoptosis may be classified as either acute or slow. Acute phenoptosis, characterized by rapid deterioration and accelerated death processes, is exemplified by the Pacific Salmon Oncorhyncus ssp. (which dies after spawning), the mayfly (which lacks a functional mouth in its adult form), and Saccharomyces cerevisiae (baker’s yeast) and Caenorhabditis elegans under stress. Other examples include the praying mantis (the male praying mantis ejaculates only after being decapitated by the female), the adatyllidium mite (the initial food source of the mite larvae is the body tissue of their mother) and squid (male squid die immediately after mating thus providing an abundant food source for predators that would prey on their eggs). Aging in Homo sapiens may possibly represent a case of slow phenoptosis.
The interpretation of aging in Homo sapiens as an instance of slow phenoptosis facilitates a bridging of the gap between programmed and stochastic theories of aging. It is a central hypothesis of Project Gilgamesh that the limit to life span imposed by supra-individual selection is mediated by stochastic processes permitted by sub-optimal repair and rejuvenation mechanisms. The efficacy of the repair mechanisms is selected so as to yield a specifies-specific life span. In summary, the human body ages by stochastic processes regulated by repair and rejuvenating mechanisms with an efficacy prescribed by evolutionary forces. While the validity of programmed theories of aging has been acknowledged, aging, in Homo sapiens, retains its stochastic character and the resolution of the aging problem remains a problem of error correction.