60-Second Science

Worm Turns Alcohol into Longevity

A very dilute alcohol solution doubles the life span of the ubiquitous lab organism C. elegans. Christopher Intagliata reports

Lots of studies suggest limited quantities of alcohol—like one drink a day—can benefit your cardiovascular health. But for the tiny worm C. elegans, dilute booze is a veritable fountain of youth. It actually doubles their life span, according to a study in the journal Public Library of Science ONE. [Paola V. Castro et al., "Caenorhabditis elegans Battling Starvation Stress: Low Levels of Ethanol Prolong Lifespan in L1 Larvae"]

The researchers discovered the alcohol effect by accident. In an earlier study, they thought it was a dose of cholesterol that extended the worms' lives. But after review, they realized that the true agent was the weak alcohol solution the cholesterol was dissolved in. Starving worm larvae that usually live 10 days could survive 20 to 30 in the presence of alcohol. And a watery drink at that—the equivalent of one beer, poured into 100 gallons of water.

The authors aren't sure what’s behind the alcohol outcome. It could be a life-saving energy source for the starving worms. Or it might flip a switch that ups the worms' stress resistance. We humans do share some chemical signaling pathways with worms—the insulin response, for example. But the researchers say assuming a similar longevity effect for us is a dangerous road to go down. Especially after drinking.

—Christopher Intagliata

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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