Caenorhabditis elegans battling starvation stress: low levels of ethanol prolong lifespan in L1 larvae

PLoS One. 2012;7(1):e29984. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0029984. Epub 2012 Jan 18.


The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans arrests development at the first larval stage if food is not present upon hatching. Larvae in this stage provide an excellent model for studying stress responses during development. We found that supplementing starved larvae with ethanol markedly extends their lifespan within this L1 diapause. The effects of ethanol-induced lifespan extension can be observed when the ethanol is added to the medium at any time between 0 and 10 days after hatching. The lowest ethanol concentration that extended lifespan was 1 mM (0.005%); higher concentrations to 68 mM (0.4%) did not result in increased survival. In spite of their extended survival, larvae did not progress to the L2 stage. Supplementing starved cultures with n-propanol and n-butanol also extended lifespan, but methanol and isopropanol had no measurable effect. Mass spectrometry analysis of nematode fatty acids and amino acids revealed that L1 larvae can incorporate atoms from ethanol into both types of molecules. Based on these data, we suggest that ethanol supplementation may extend the lifespan of L1 larvae by either serving as a carbon and energy source and/or by inducing a stress response.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / genetics
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / metabolism
  • Caenorhabditis elegans / physiology*
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / pharmacology
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Ethanol / pharmacology*
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism
  • Food Deprivation / physiology*
  • Glutamine / analogs & derivatives
  • Larva / genetics
  • Larva / metabolism
  • Larva / physiology
  • Longevity / drug effects*
  • Longevity / genetics
  • Longevity / physiology
  • Mutation
  • Stress, Physiological / physiology*
  • Time Factors


  • Amino Acids
  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • Fatty Acids
  • Glutamine
  • Ethanol
  • gamma-glutamylaminomethylsulfonic acid