Engineered probiotic helps mice shake off alcohol buzz
Researchers in China have created a probiotic specially designed to release an alcohol-metabolizing enzyme called ADH1. Then they fed the substance to mice and got them drunk. The results showed success in keeping the mice from getting too buzzed, and in helping them clear the alcohol from their systems faster. If the same results hold for humans, the probiotic could offer a way to not only shield us from the more unpleasant side effects of drinking, but it could also find use in treating liver disease.
When humans ingest alcohol, an enzyme known as alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) is enlisted to help metabolize it. (Interestingly, ADH has also recently been shown to be a possible anti-aging substance, but we digress.)
While ADH is pretty effective at its job, research has shown that its cousin, ADH1B is even better. Found in Polynesian and East Asian populations, it is 100 times more effective at alcohol metabolism than regular ADH.
Using this form of the enzyme, a team of researchers from the Chinese Academy of Science’s Institute of Zoology came up with an easy and harmless way of distributing it. They genetically altered the bacterium Lactococcus lactis to secrete ADH1B after ingestion. They then encapsulated it to ensure it could survive its trip through the harsh environment of the digestive tract, gave it to some mice, and got them drunk on wine.
Mice who didn't receive the probiotic got pretty tipsy as evidenced by the fact that when the researchers put them on their backs an hour after drinking, they couldn't turn themselves over. But for the mice who'd taken the pill, half could roll over after an hour, and a quarter never lost their ability to roll over at all.
Additionally, after two hours, the untreated mice were still seeing a climb in their blood alcohol levels, while in the mice that took the probiotics, BAC levels began to fall. If the treatment proves safe for humans – which is the next path of investigation for the researchers – a similar enzyme-expressing probiotic might be able to help us more quickly metabolize alcohol, and possibly shield us from the dreaded hangovers that come with overconsumption.
Considering that alcohol consumption has been linked to everything from cancer to accelerated aging to brain shrinkage, anything that helps us metabolize it better would be a welcome development.
Along those lines, the current study additionally showed that the treated mice also gathered fewer lipids and triglycerides in their livers, which means the pill could help mitigate some of the damage that alcohol can do to that organ.
"We believe that genetically engineered probiotics will provide new ideas for the treatment of liver diseases," said study co-author Meng Dong, Ph.D. "We are excited about the improvement of recombinant probiotics in acute alcohol-induced liver and intestinal damage."
The research has been published in the journal, Microbiology Spectrum.
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