IS A TINY TIPPLE THE SECRET TO LONG LIFE?
It seems more and more likely that the legendary Fountain of Youth must be flowing with alcohol of some kind. According to research from a team of UCLA biochemists, minuscule amounts of ethanol, the type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages, can more than double the life span of a tiny worm known as Caenorhabditis elegans, which is used frequently as a model in aging studies. The scientists said they find their discovery difficult to explain. “This finding floored us – it’s shocking,” said Steven Clarke, a UCLA professor of chemistry and biochemistry and the senior author of the study. In humans, alcohol consumption is generally harmful, Clarke said, and if the worms are given much higher concentrations of ethanol, they experience harmful neurological effects and die, other research has shown. “We used far lower levels, where it may be beneficial,” said Clarke, who studies the biochemistry of aging. The worms, which grow from an egg to an adult in just a few days, are found throughout the world in soil where they eat bacteria. Clarke’s research team studied thousands of these worms during the first hours of their lives, while they were still in a larval stage. The worms normally live for about 15 days and can survive with nothing to eat for roughly 1O to 12 days. “Our finding is that tiny amounts of ethanol can make them survive 2O to 4O days,” Clarke stated. Initially, his laboratory intended to test the effect of cholesterol on the worms. “Cholesterol is crucial for humans,” Clarke said. “We need it in our membranes, but it can be dangerous in our bloodstream.” The scientists fed the worms cholesterol, and the worms lived longer, apparently due to the cholesterol. The cholesterol had been dissolved in ethanol, often used as a solvent, which the scientists diluted 1OOO-fold. “It’s just a solvent, but it turns out the solvent was having the longevity effect,” Clarke commented. “The cholesterol did nothing. We found that not only does ethanol work at a 1-to-1OOO dilution, it works at a 1-to-2O,OOO dilution. That tiny bit shouldn’t have made any difference, but it turns out it can be so beneficial.” How little ethanol is that? According to Clarke, “The concentrations correspond to a tablespoon of ethanol in a bathtub full of water or the alcohol in one beer diluted into a hundred gallons of water.” The study was published in the January online journal plos one, a publication of the Public Library of Science.