Humans might just envy Caenorhabditis elegans. It has been found that tiny amounts of alcohol nearly double the lifespan of this particular worm. However, even the UCLA chemistry professors who discovered this bizarre phenomenon, are unable to explain why.
This study was intended as a model of aging. Tiny amounts of ethanol were given to worms and they found that, instead of dying soon, the worms were living much longer – sometimes almost twice as longer!
Cholesterol and Ethanol
Steven Clarke, the biochemistry professor at UCLA and lead author of the study, surmised that it’s only the high doses of alcohol which affect an organism adversely. Alcohol in low concentrations might actually be helpful. He says:
We used far lower levels, where it may be beneficial.
The team studied the worms right from their larval stage to adulthood. The worms eat bacteria and live for a mere 15 days. The tiny amount of alcohol was noticed to extend the life of the worms to 20 to 40 days consistently.
The lab tested the effect of cholesterol on these worms. They injected cholesterol, which is quite harmful in humans, since it often tends to clog up vital arteries and veins in humans. What they found was that the ethanol ingested earlier was helpful in dissolving the cholesterol, and indeed cholesterol dissolves in ethanol rather readily. The dilution of the ethanol administered earlier was 1-in-1000.
No one knows why!
Different concentrations yielded similar results. The team tried concentrations of 1-in-20,000, but the results were still positive. The effect was however not found when the concentration was increased to about 1-in-250. The puzzle is still open.
The lab is now trying to isolate the factor, which leads to this strange behavior. They suspect a gene. This immediately opens up the question as to whether this same procedure can be helpful to humans or not. Afterall, we share a large percentage of our genetic baggage with these worms. There is more – the worms ingesting alcohol look healthier than ones which do not. Says Paola Castro, one of the members of the group:
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.
It is possible that the worms are using the ethanol directly as a source of food.
Before you ask, let us just say that this procedure may not really be applicable to humans. And if you really want to drink, kindly give yourself a better excuse than ‘Even a worm drinks and look where that’s got it’.