Navigation Links
Tiny amounts of alcohol dramatically extend a worm's life, but why?

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, UCLA biochemists report. 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, published Jan. 18 in the online journal PLoS ONE, a publication of the Public Library of Science.

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 Paola Castro, Shilpi Khare and Brian Young 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 10 to 12 days.

"Our finding is that tiny amounts of ethanol can make them survive 20 to 40 days," Clarke said.

Initially, Clarke's 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. 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."

How little ethanol is that?

"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.

Why would such little ethanol have such an effect on longevity?

"We don't know all the answers," Clarke acknowledged. "It's possible there is a trivial explanation, but I don't think that's the case. We know that if we increase the ethanol concentration, they do not live longer. This extremely low level is the maximum that is beneficial for them."

The scientists found that when they raised the ethanol level by a factor of 80, it did not increase the life span of the worms.

The research raises, but does not answer, the question of whether tiny amounts of ethanol can be helpful for human health. Whether this mechanism has something in common with findings that moderate alcohol consumption in humans may have a cardiovascular health benefit is unknown, but Clarke said the possibilities are intriguing.

In follow-up research, Clarke's laboratory is trying to identify the mechanism that extends the worms' life span.

About half the genes in the worms have human counterparts, Clarke said, so if the researchers can identify a gene that extends the life of the worm, that may have implications for human aging.

"It is important for other scientists to know that such a low concentration of the widely used solvent ethanol can have such a big effect in C. elegans," said lead author Paola Castro, who conducted the research as an undergraduate in Clarke's laboratory before earning a bachelor's degree in biochemistry from UCLA in 2010 and joining the Ph.D. program in bioengineering at UC Santa Cruz. "What is even more interesting is the fact that the worms are in a stressed developmental stage. At high magnifications under the microscope, it was amazing to see how the worms given a little ethanol looked significantly more robust than worms not given ethanol."

"While the physiological effects of high alcohol consumption have been established to be detrimental in humans, current research shows that low to moderate alcohol consumption, equivalent to one or two glasses of wine or beer a day, results in a reduction in cardiovascular disease and increased longevity," said co-author Shilpi Khare, a former Ph.D. student in UCLA's biochemistry and molecular biology program who is now a postdoctoral fellow at the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation in San Diego. "While these benefits are fascinating, our understanding of the underlying biochemistry involved in these processes remains in its infancy.

"We show that very low doses of ethanol can be a worm 'lifesaver' under starvation stress conditions," Khare added. "While the mechanism of action is still not clearly understood, our evidence indicates that these 1 millimeterlong roundworms could be utilizing ethanol directly as a precursor for biosynthesis of high-energy metabolic intermediates or indirectly as a signal to extend life span. These findings could potentially aid researchers in determining how human physiology is altered to induce cardio-protective and other beneficial effects in response to low alcohol consumption."

Clarke's laboratory identified the first protein-repair enzyme in the early 1980s, and his research has shown that repairing proteins is important to cells. In the current study, the biochemists reported that life span is significantly reduced under stress conditions in larval worms that lack this repair enzyme. (More than 150 enzymes are involved in repairing DNA damage, and about a dozen protein-repair enzymes have been identified.)

"Our molecules live for only weeks or months," Clarke said. "If we want to live long lives, we have to outlive our molecules. The way we do that is with enzymes that repair our DNA and with proteins, a combination of replacement and repair."


Contact: Stuart Wolpert
University of California - Los Angeles

Related biology news :

1. Why bats, rats and cats store different amounts of fat
2. Scalable amounts of liver and pancreas precursor cells created using new stem cell production method
3. New study links excessive amounts of vitamin D to onset of atrial fibrillation
4. UCLA researchers engineer E. coli to produce record-setting amounts of alternative fuel
5. Recipe for family mealtimes calls for 3 ingredients in the right amounts
6. Large amounts of nitrogen stored beneath selected agricultural areas
7. Scientists identify seamounts as significant, unexplored territory
8. Breakthrough reveals blood vessel cells are key to growing unlimited amounts of adult stem cells
9. Seamounts reach a pinnacle in upcoming issue of Oceanography
10. Moderate amounts of protein per meal found best for building muscle
11. Will large amounts of soil carbon be released if grasslands are converted to energy crops?
Post Your Comments:
(Date:11/20/2015)... Connecticut , November 20, 2015 ... authentication company focused on the growing mobile commerce market ... CEO, Gino Pereira , was recently interviewed on ... interview will air on this weekend on Bloomberg ... Latin America . --> NXTD ) ("NXT-ID" ...
(Date:11/19/2015)... VIEW, Calif. , Nov. 19, 2015  Based ... market, Frost & Sullivan recognizes BIO-key with the 2015 ... Leadership. Each year, Frost & Sullivan presents this award ... product line catering to the needs of the market ... the product line meets and expands on customer base ...
(Date:11/19/2015)...  Although some 350 companies are actively involved in ... companies, according to Kalorama Information. These include Roche Diagnostics, Hologic, ... share of the 6.1 billion-dollar molecular testing market, according ... Molecular Diagnostic s .    ... by one company and only a handful of companies ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/24/2015)... Nov. 24, 2015  Asia-Pacific (APAC) holds the ... (CRO) market. The trend of outsourcing to low-cost ... but higher volume share for the region in ... however, margins in the CRO industry will improve. ... ( ), finds that the market ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... HILLS, N.J. (PRWEB) , ... November 24, 2015 , ... ... as the recipient of the 2016 USGA Green Section Award. Presented annually since 1961, ... golf through his or her work with turfgrass. , Clarke, of Iselin, ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... Nov. 24, 2015 Cepheid (NASDAQ: CPHD ... at the following conference, and invited investors to participate ...      Tuesday, December 1, 2015 at 11.00 a.m. ...      Tuesday, December 1, 2015 at 11.00 a.m. ... New York, NY      Tuesday, December ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... SAN DIEGO , Nov. 24, 2015 Halozyme Therapeutics, ... Jaffray Healthcare Conference in New York on ... Dr. Helen Torley , president and CEO, will provide a ... New York at 1:00 p.m. ET/10:00 a.m. ... communication and investor relations, will provide a corporate overview. --> ...
Breaking Biology Technology: