1062-3604/02/3302- $27.00 © 2002
Russian Journal of Developmental Biology, Vol. 33, No. 2, 2002, pp. 120–122. Translated from Ontogenez, Vol. 33, No. 2, 2002, pp. 150–152.
Original Russian Text Copyright © 2002 by Khokhlov.
All monographs on gerontology can be divided, in
my opinion, into three categories:
(1) Books that you read with astonishment and
annoyance: an impression is created that the author
ignores all main principles of that science. Unfortu-
nately, there are many such books.
(2) Books that you read without astonishment and
annoyance: everything seems to be correct, but no pos-
itive emotions arise. Everything is predictable, and you
ﬁnd nothing new in such books. These books appear
(3) And, ﬁnally, books that you read with deep envy
towards the author, as you would like to have written it
yourself. A sense of astonishment is also present, but it
is caused, in this case, by the amazing knowledge of the
author in this area and his/her capacity for adequate
analysis of the data presented and substantiation of the
viable concept of aging.
The book by de Grey, which appeared at the very
end of 1999 and reached the reader in 2000, belongs to
this third category.
It was always seemed natural to me that, from the
viewpoint of a certain gerontological theory, it is neces-
sary to provide a distinct deﬁnition of aging and try to
answer, among others, the following questions
(1) How universal is the process of aging?
(2) Why, in addition to aging organisms, in which the
probability of death increases with the age, are there non-
aging organisms, such as some coelenterates, ﬁsh, etc.?
(3) Why is life span species speciﬁc?
(4) Why are the cancer cells “immortal,” i.e., have
an unlimited mitotic potential, unlike normal cells? If
we do not recognize the role of “Heyﬂick’s phenome-
non” in aging
, this question could be ignored.
However, one should not forget that there are “mortal”
cancer cells and “immortal” normal cells, and this
should also be taken into consideration (Macieira-
(5) How do the processes that determine aging differ
in dividing and non-dividing cells, such as neurons?
One could have asked how these cells age, but this
question requires a precise deﬁnition of cell aging.
(6) How does the germ line, i.e., the community of
cells providing for the transmission of genetic informa-
tion in a practically inﬁnite sequence of generations,
“evade” aging? And, what about the cytoplasmic sex
(7) How do plants, bacteria, fungi, protists, myco-
plasms, etc., age, if one can say that they age at all?
(8) How can the evolution of aging be represented
within the framework of a formulated concept (let us
remember the concepts of “early” and “late” Weisman)
(Kirkwood and Cremer, 1982)?
It is impossible to answer all of these questions with-
out what is called “the systemic approach to the prob-
lem.” The reviewed book is a classic example of such a
systemic approach. The author tries to answer, directly or
indirectly, most of the aforementioned questions.
De Grey, who only became involved in theoretical
gerontology in 1995, quickly became a recognized spe-
cialist in this area. Just look at the materials from the
Internet conference on aging on the NET.BIO.NET
server, where de Grey is undoubtedly one of the most
active and competent participants.
I am happy to say that, while discussing the aging of
diverse organisms, the author never forgets the neces-
sity of the deﬁnition of this phenomenon, even for uni-
cellular organisms. Speciﬁcally, while considering the
problem of aging of the yeast
, de Grey underlines that, for this organism, aging
is understood only as the process of exhaustion of a
limited number of “buddings” of daughter cells; i.e., in
this case, he does not have in mind the classic deﬁnition
of aging as an age-related increase in the probability of
Actually, the monograph is dedicated to the well-
known free radical theory of aging formulated in the
1950s (Harman, 1956) and somewhat modiﬁed in the
beginning of the 1970s (Harman, 1972). The mitochon-
drial DNA (mDNA) is the keystone of one variant of
this concept, which de Grey holds and whose name
became a part of the book title. Its damage by free rad-
From Mitochondria to Immortality?
(A Review of the Book by Aubrey D.N.J. de Grey,
The Mitochondrial Free Radical Theory of Aging
Austin, TX: R.G. Londes Co., 1999
(Molecular Biology Intelligence. V. 9))
A. N. Khokhlov