Yeast in red wine yields the secret of a long life

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The Independent Online

Red wine may hold the secret of long life. Scientists have discovered an ingredient in the drink that extends the life- span of baker's yeast by up to 80 per cent.

Red wine may hold the secret of long life. Scientists have discovered an ingredient in the drink that extends the life- span of baker's yeast by up to 80 per cent.

Laboratory experiments show the molecule also has an effect on human cells, making them much more resilient to radiation. The research raises the possibility of developing drugs that lengthen life and prevent the diseases of old age.

The molecule, resveratrol, belongs to a well-known group of plant compounds found in red wine, fruit and vegetables and olive oil. These polyphenols are famed for their antioxidant properties and the new research indicates that some seem to activate a family of enzymes, sirtuins, known to extend the lifespan of yeast and laboratory worms living on a restricted calorie intake.

A number of species are known to live longer when their food intake is reduced, including mice and rats. One explanation might be that "hunger stress" stimulates sirtuins to prepare for survival.

Dr David Sinclair, assistant professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School, who co-led the new study, said: "We think sirtuins buy cells time to repair damage. There is a growing realisation from the ageing field that blocking cell death - as long as it doesn't lead to cancer - extends lifespan."

The researchers found 17 molecules that stimulated Sirt1, one of seven human sirtuins, and the yeast enzyme Sir2. The most potent molecule was resveratrol, the scientists reported in the early online edition of the journal Nature.

Yeast cells treated with small doses of resveratrol lived for an average of 38 generations, compared with 19 for untreated yeast. The molecule was found to work through a known biochemical pathway involving Sir2. In experiments with human cells, resveratrol activated a similar Sirt1 pathway.

The proportion of human cells surviving blasts of gamma radiation rose from 10 per cent to 30 per cent when treated with resveratrol.

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