Disability in biodemographic context: fresh insights from experimental research on fruit flies

James R. Carey, University of California, Davis
Nikos Papadopoulos, University of Thessaly

Disability research is based on observational human data with no complementary research on animals. We present the results of the first systematic study on disability in a non-human species {Papadopoulos, N. T., Carey, et al. 2002. Supine behaviour predicts time-to-death in male Mediterranean fruit flies. Proc. Royal Soc. London: Biol. Sci 269, 1633-1637} where over 97% of 203 medflies monitored in a lifetime study exhibited what we term supine behaviour (temporary upside-down orientation) starting an average of 16.1 days prior to their death (e0=61.7 days). Supine onset increased mortality risk by 39.5-fold and a unit increase in supine level increased mortality by 26.3%. The discovery that behavioural traits in insects can be used as biomarkers of their health and to predict their time-to-death has far-reaching implications regarding research on the demography of disability, morbidity dynamics, behavioural neuroethology and gerontology, and the interpretation of longevity extension in model organisms.

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Presented in Session 148: The demography of disability: setting new directions