Magazine On-line [summer 2007]
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Around the Campus

Alltech lectures examine yeast, aging, nutrition

The Alltech Lecture Series at Transylvania concluded this spring with three presentations that looked at the historical importance and future possibilities of yeast in relation to health, the role of biotechnology in slowing the aging process, and the effects of nutrition on gene activity.

Karl Dawson, director of worldwide research for Alltech, used the title “The Science in Your Glass of Beer, Wine, or Whiskey” to introduce his lecture on why yeast has become humankind’s most trusted and useful microorganism. In addition to the essential role of yeast in alcohol production and bread making, yeast was crucial in the development of microbiology, Dawson said.

Current research is also looking at the intriguing possibility of using yeast to fight disease in a fundamentally different way than antibiotics, which inhibit the growth of bacteria.

“Yeast glycomics gives us the opportunity to change the way we think about disease treatment,” Dawson said. “For example, the salmonella bacteria has to attach itself to the intestine before it can reproduce and cause the disease. We can block the binding protein of the salmonella with a yeast product. It serves as a decoy that the bacteria attaches to and then is washed out.”

Inge Russell, a research scientist at the University of Western Ontario in Canada and visiting professor at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, titled her lecture “The Fountain of Youth: Does It Really Exist?” She said that each individual’s aging process depends about 30 percent on genetics and 70 percent on your environment. “You have huge control over the aging process,” she said.

Russell said that restricting caloric intake—in a process she called “undernutrition without malnutrition”—and physical activity are keys to a longer life.

“In Okinawa, where there are more people over 100 years old than anywhere in the world, the people eat 40 percent fewer calories than most of us do,” Russell said. “They also work very hard.”

Ronan Power, Alltech’s director of research, spoke on “Feeding Our Genes for Better Health” and discussed the emerging science of nutrigenomics, which studies the effects of nutrition on gene activity. He focused specifically on the role of selenium as a nutrient with great potential for improving our health.

“In the past 50 years a clear link has been established between selenium intake and human health,” Power said. He cited experiments with mice that point to the ability of selenium to possibly delay the onset on Alzheimer’s disease.

“While these studies are preliminary, we do believe they reveal many potential benefits for selenium supplementation, which may be of relevance to human conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, and other issues,” he said.

The lectures were sponsored by Alltech, a global animal health bioscience company and producer of animal feed, headquartered in Nicholasville, Ky. The company’s president, Pearse Lyons, a member of the Transylvania Board of Trustees, presented the first of the series’ lectures in February when he spoke on “The Competition for Food, Feed, or Fuel.”

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