Published on April 30, 2024   30 min

Other Talks in the Series: Aging

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I am James Carey, distinguished Professor of Entomology at the University of California, Davis, and senior scholar in the Center for the Economics and Demography of Aging at the University of California at Berkeley. One of my main areas of research is biodemography with special emphasis on lifespan concepts, both of these are topics for this lecture.
Before I talk about biodemography, I need to first define demography. Demography is the study of populations and the processes that shape them, that is birth, death, and migration.
Biodemography is a field anchored in formal demography that interconnects topics ranging from disease, medicine, and health to ecology, conservation, and population biology. The two main branches of biodemography are the following: first, biological demographic research directly related to human health with an emphasis on health surveys, a field of research that might be called biomedical demography or epidemiology because it is a cross between demography and epidemiology and the second is research on the intersection of demography and biology. This is as opposed to biomedicine. This endeavor, we will refer to as biological demography. This is the area of biodemography that is my specialty.
To put biodemography in a more global scientific context, consider the various hierarchies in science. We can start at the level of the molecular, cell, tissue, and organ biology. Then, we have the individual, the cohort, and population, beyond which we have community, ecosystem, and Gaea, and beyond that, planetary solar systems, the galaxies, and the entire universe. Demography can be considered here at the individual cohort and population levels. Biologists sometimes refer to the concepts of skin in and skin out biology, which in essence refers to the level of the individual. This is where demography begins, and the population is where it ends, at least with respect to classical demography. Now, to situate biodemography within this framework, we consider humans not as the sole focus for study, but rather humans situated in the context of the tree of life. Thus, we can use non-human species and model animal systems, such as nematodes, fruit flies, and laboratory rodents to address basic questions about aging and lifespan. Because they are basic and general questions, the answers also apply to humans. As with the wide breadth of virtually all disciplines and subdisciplines in science, the scope of biodemography, in general, in this subarea focusing specifically on biological demography is extensive, with topics ranging from sex, mortality differentials, caloric restriction, and cost of reproduction to aging, genetics, survival in the wild, and the impact of activity on longevity. Therefore it is impossible to provide a detailed overview of this area of biodemography in any single lecture.