Thursday, 26 January 2012

Tiny alcohol amounts double worm's life

Tiny portions of ethanol, the type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages, can more than double the lifespan of a tiny worm known as C elegans.

The worm, found in soils, where they eat bacteria, is used frequently as a model in aging studies, according to University of California Los Angeles biochemists.

"This finding floored us - it's shocking," said Steven Clarke, a California professor of chemistry and biochemistry.

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.

Clarke's research team - Paola Castro, Shilpi Khare and Brian Young - studied thousands of these worms in 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 10-12 days. "Our finding is that tiny amounts of ethanol can make them survive 20 to 40 days," Clarke said.

The scientists fed the worms cholesterol, and the worms lived longer, apparently due to the cholesterol. They had dissolved the cholesterol in ethanol, often used as a solvent, which they diluted 1,000-fold.

"It's just a solvent, but it turns out the solvent was having the longevity effect," Clarke said.

"The cholesterol did nothing. We found that not only does ethanol work at a 1-to-1,000 dilution, it works at a 1-to-20,000 dilution.

"That tiny bit shouldn't have made any difference, but it turns out it can be so beneficial.

"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," Clarke said.

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