In print, David Sinclair comes off as a mild-mannered Harvard pathologist given to discussions of "small molecules" and Saccharomyces cerevisiae. On the phone, though, he's a bit more... effusive. "We're making history," he says. "What surprises me--well, a lot of things do--oh, I've gotten carried away. What was my point?" What's got him so excited is none other than a small molecule, and if you happen to want a long and healthy life, it'll have you in a tizzy, too. Sinclair and colleagues reported last week in Nature that a chemical called resveratrol can lengthen the life of a Saccharomyces yeast cell by 80 percent--and it might do similar wonders for human cells. Resveratrol activates enzymes that prevent cancer, stave off cell death and boost cellular-repair systems.
A naturally occurring molecule, it builds up in under-nourished animals and plants attacked by fungi. One of the latter is the grapevine--yup, resveratrol is found in red wine. Of course, if we had a nickel for every study touting wine as a health food, we'd own our own vineyard. But wine doesn't contain much resveratrol, and the compound degrades quickly in both the glass and the body. A pill might work better, though, and a provisional patent has already been filed. "I don't think we'll see any Methuselahs in our lifetime," says Sinclair. "But we might each get another five years of life." That, by the way, was his point. It's a good one.