I'm intrigued by a British news report claiming that 'heavy water' may be a solution - you should pardon the expression - to the problem of aging.
For centuries mankind has sought the secret of a long and healthy life.
And for centuries it seems we were looking in the wrong place. Forget exotic pills and potions, the key to prolonged life could be as simple as a glass of water. Scientists believe 'heavy water' enriched with a rare form of hydrogen could add as much as ten years to life.
And by also modifying foods, such as steak and eggs, with the hydrogen the way could be cleared to allowing us to eat and drink our way to a healthy old age.
The idea is the brainchild of Mikhail Shchepinov, a former Oxford University scientist.
It centres on fortifying the body's tissues and cells against attack and decay caused by free radicals, dangerous chemicals produced when food is turned into energy. Such 'attacks' on proteins are particularly damaging and have been linked to cancer, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
Dr Shchepinov's theory is based on deuterium, a naturally-occurring isotope, or form of hydrogen, that strengthens the bonds in between and around the body's cells, making them less vulnerable to attack.
He found that water enriched with deuterium, which is twice as heavy as normal hydrogen, extends the lifespan of worms by 10 per cent. And fruitflies fed the 'water of life' lived up to 30 per cent longer.
He now believes people could also benefit from the sweet-tasting water, or from deuterium-enriched 'heavy foods'.
Foods could be created by either directly supplementing them with deuterium or by enriching the feed of farm animals, this week's New Scientist reports. Dr Shchepinov said recently: 'We don't have to be consuming isotopes as white powder.
If you take a pig and feed these things to a pig, all you need to do is consume the pig in normal fashion.'
The technology was likely to be tested in pet food first, he added.
Dr Shchepinov runs biotech firm Retrotope whose scientific advisers include Aubrey de Grey, a controversial ageing guru.
Dr de Grey, a 'bio-gerontologist' who leads the Methuselah Foundation, a charity which aims for 'the defeat of age-related disease and the indefinite extension of the healthy human lifespan', said the research was 'extremely promising'.
He said deuterium existed in all living matter at a certain level and it was a case of introducing it in a 'more targeted manner'. There was no radiation involved, he added.
Dr Judith Campisi, of the Buck Institute for Age Research in California, said: 'I've heard some pretty crazy ideas about how we might live longer but I'm intrigued by this.'
But Tom Kirkwood, of Newcastle University, said: 'Shchepinov's idea is interesting but . . . the history in the field is cluttered with hypotheses which are only partially supported by the data.'
Interesting thought . . . but deuterium is also used in nuclear physics. According to Wikipedia, it's 'useful in nuclear fusion reactions', among many other things.
This led to an interesting conversation with a friend this afternoon. I told him of this article, and the benefits allegedly promised by deuterium, and mentioned its nuclear properties.
FRIEND: "So, when I pee, will it glow in the dark?"
ME: "Er . . . well, I don't know, but I don't think so."
FRIEND: "Then what's the point?"
ME: "Why would you want to pee in the dark anyway? Surely aiming would be more difficult? Why not turn on the light?"
FRIEND: "Well, if my pee glowed in the dark, I wouldn't have to, would I?"
ME: [Heaves a deep, long-suffering sigh] "So much for nuclear physics . . . "
Perhaps Stingray and/or Labrat could enlighten us?