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Heavy hydrogen keeps yeast looking good

It could be a breakthrough in the hunt for an "elixir of life". Organic molecules containing a heavy isotope of hydrogen seem to resist the kind of cell damage that happens with ageing. But hang on to your moisturiser for now: the effects have been demonstrated only in yeast cells.

Free radicals attack weak carbon-hydrogen bonds and are a major source of the kind of oxidative cell damage that can occur in conditions such as coronary artery disease, neurological disorders and retinal ailments. Among the compounds most vulnerable to attack by free radicals are the polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) vital to the structure and function of cell membranes.

In 2006 Mikhail Shchepinov of biotech firm Retrotope, based in Los Altos Hills, California, proposed that PUFAs containing deuterium should be less susceptible to free-radical damage, since deuterium forms stronger bonds than ordinary hydrogen. To test the idea, Shchepinov and colleagues substituted deuterium for regular hydrogen in two essential dietary fatty acids and introduced them into yeast cells.

Yeast does not produce these fatty acids naturally, and when these compounds are present the cells become vulnerable to oxidative damage. The team found that y east cells dosed with the deuterium-based fatty acids were up to 150 times as resistant to oxidative stress as cells treated with normal fatty acids (Free Radical Biology and Medicine, DOI: 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2010.10.690).
 
 

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