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The Science of Life

The Science of Life

Is ageing necessary and inevitable? Not according to pioneering scientist and author Professor Tom Kirkwood. Professor Kirkwood will take part in a New Zealand tour (22 March-17 April) that will explore how and why human ageing takes place and how we can influence it.

Professor Kirkwood, from the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in England, is visiting New Zealand as the TOWER Fellow at the New Zealand Institute for Research on Ageing at Victoria University.

Professor Kirkwood has been actively involved in ageing research since 1975. He heads the Department of Gerontology in Newcastle and was Britain’s first Professor of Biological Gerontology. He is involved in research which explores the stresses on cells and maintenance systems within the human body as it gets older. In 1977, he put forward the "disposable soma" theory, which predicted that reproduction diverts resources away from the maintenance and repair of cells, with ageing as the consequence. Professor Kirkwood will also be known to New Zealanders from his series of BBC Reith Lectures in 2001.

As part of his tour, Professor Kirkwood will be speaking at Victoria University on ‘Ageing, Sex and Death’, a lecture that will explore the biological reasons behind our bodies slowing down. Kirkwood’s research indicates that nature places a higher premium on reproduction than on the long-term maintenance of our bodies; a biological trade-off between long life and human fertility.

Associate Professor Judith Davey, Director of the New Zealand Institute for Research on Ageing, is delighted that Professor Kirkwood is able to visit New Zealand to share some of his findings.

“Professor Kirkwood is an original and inspiring speaker on ageing; something which everyone experiences but most of us do not understand. He gives non-scientists a clear understanding of the science of life itself.”

The Institute was established at Victoria University in 2002 and focuses on social research in the area of population and individual ageing. Its multi-disciplinary, multi-sectoral and multi-ethnic approach makes it unique in New Zealand. Professor Kirkwood is able to attend this conference tour in New Zealand thanks to sponsorship from TOWER Ltd, a scheme that has allowed the Institute to invite four eminent academics and researchers on ageing to attend events in New Zealand since 2001.

Professor Kirkwood will be meeting with government agencies and voluntary organisations and will be travelling extensively throughout New Zealand during his stay. He will take part in the New Zealand Association of Gerontology Conference in Christchurch from the 14-16 April as their keynote speaker and will also visit Auckland and Dunedin.

Contact: Associate Professor Judith A. Davey, New Zealand Institute for Research on Ageing, Victoria University. Ph: 04 463 6746, email Professor Kirkwood can be contacted through Judith Davey.

Professor Kirkwood’s lecture, Ageing, Sex and Death, will be held on March 25, at 6pm, in Lecture theatre 101, Maclaurin building, Gate 5 or 6, Kelburn Campus, Victoria University. To register your interest please email

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