Catherine Clarke: Well, folks take it as an anti oxidant, similar to the way they might take Vitamin C or Vitamin E.

Robyn Williams: So, if you're suggesting that without Q you live 60% longer, you know that's a huge amount, could it be that with Q you have a similarly dramatic effect on the other direction?

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Robyn Williams: Except we are talking about worms still, aren't we? What was the reaction when you published your material, were the manufacturers very cross?

Robyn Williams: So this brings in your work on the C elegans, this Discount Men Canada Goose Manitoba Jacket Graphite Australia wonderful little worm the nematode worm, which has been used for so many experiments and you found what?

Catherine Clarke: Right, there are studies that suggest that as people age and as animals age that levels of this, it's a lipid, fall. And I think one of the rationales may be that by taking it as a supplement you could keep levels at a higher amount.

Kerry Hull: Dr Dunlap has found that the bacteria which live in the outer mucous lining of corals exposed to the damaging ultra violet sunlight dramatically increase levels of this anti aging enzyme. In the laboratory, when bombarded with UV radiation the bacteria over compensate by recycling coenzyme Q at a faster rate than needed to resist damage.

Catherine Clarke: Well, you know we expect the results of that Parkinson's Disease trial to come out probably within this year. The Huntington's Disease trial: I think what the result will indicate is that there is no significant effect of taking the coenzyme Q, but again, I think those still need to be published.

Kerry Hull, ABC News, Townsville.

Walt Dunlap: As we get older we become more and more deficient in this recycling of coenzyme Q.

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Robyn Williams: Do you recommend to your friends that they take it?

Catherine Clarke: No, in fact I think people say they have to take it for a month or so or even longer and that it's a gradual effect it; doesn't kick in right away.

Robyn Williams: And you found?

Catherine Clarke: No. I don't.

Robyn Williams: But people don't get a sort of immediate reaction over days or weeks, they don't feel better necessarily, do they?

Robyn Williams: Fascinating science done by the man who brought us the coral sunscreen a while ago, Walt Dunlap. But what about that coenzyme Q, taken by lots of people to keep them young. Does it work? Well, according to new research at UCLA, that's the University of California, Los Angeles, it sometimes has the opposite effect to the one you want. Professor Catherine Clarke.

Robyn Williams: And they really do believe in it?

Catherine Clarke: Yeah, there are quite a few folks that take it and think it provides some benefit and in fact there are clinical trials underway currently testing whether it has any efficacy in treating a variety of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's Disease and Huntington's disease, and for the most part we simply must wait to see what the efficacy is.

Catherine Clarke: Well, what we found was that in feeding these worms a diet devoid of coenzyme Q they actually had a 60% extension of lifespan. So it really, you know, it was really a surprise to folks I think, that take the supplement because the preconceived notion is that if you took this you would perhaps extend life. So in our studies the worms are eating the bacteria called E. coli (Escherichia coli), and that's their normal laboratory diet. And we simply engineered an E. coli strain that was Q less, so it was devoid of coenzyme Q, and then provided the worms with either the Q less diet or the Q replete diet and that's where we saw a 60% extension of lifespan in the worms fed the Q less diet.

Robyn Williams: I'm sure it is. And the results that you mentioned for the clinical trials, when will they start to be public?

Catherine Clarke: Well, we were studying the biosynthetic pathway of coenzyme Q or ubiquinone, and there was a mutation in a worm, the C elegans, that prevented it's synthesis and interestingly enough this mutant had been described initially as being very slow, very sluggish and having a longer life span. And our work in fact showed that the mutation impaired the synthesis of coenzyme Q in the worm and so one of the next questions we wanted to address was whether a dietary source of coenzyme Q also would have an impact on lifespan of the worm, and specifically looking at normal worms that are able to synthesis coenzyme Q.

Robyn Williams: Do you take it yourself?

Robyn Williams: Of course, there'd be anti oxidants the rage at the moment and presumably people are taking them for some sort of long term benefit; anti aging and all that.

Robyn Williams: Did you see an item on ABC TV news a few days ago about extend your life span? Here's an extract.

Kerry Hull: Dr Dunlap says the bacteria has the ability to produce a potent weapon in the war against aging an antioxidant known as coenzyme Q. Antioxidants boost the body's resistance to free radicals, the toxic by product cells create as they burn energy.

Kerry Hull: Most people spend their life trying to slow the aging process but Dr Walt Dunlap from the Australian Institute of Marine Science believes he may have unlocked the secret to eternal youth in marine bacteria.

Catherine Clarke: No, I don't. I get asked that question quite a bit and in my mind I think there's just not enough known about its effects and how it's taken up and transported by different tissues, so I'm a bit on the fence about coenzyme Q as a supplement.

Catherine Clarke: Well, I think a certain knee jerk reaction was: Oh, my goodness me, maybe I should stop taking my coenzyme Q supplement, and there tended to be direct extrapolation from our findings in worms to what the implications were in humans. Fortunately, I haven't been directly accosted or anything but there's a variety of web sites where there's quite an active debate going on about the possible pros and cons that may result from taking coenzyme Q and I certainly think such a debate is healthy.

Catherine Clarke: That's a big question, so actually the analogy that we work with is that it could be similar to cholesterol. So one thing that is clear is that the worms do better during growth and development with Q in the diet. So in other words, going from an egg through their normal larval moults to a reproductive active adult they actually do better with the coenzyme Q replete diet than with the Q less diet, but when they're switched as an adult to the Q less diet that's when you see the extension in lifespan. And I think the analogy to cholesterol is that during growth and development dietary sources of this lipid are really important: you're making new membranes, you're laying down islets (of Langhans) during development and cholesterol has to be produced and it's very important that it's taken in. But once you're developed, right, and you're a fat a happy adult, then the problem is the opposite: perhaps that we get too successful, we eat too much and that's when perhaps having it at exceedingly high levels is detrimental. It's possible that the same could be true with coenzyme Q but there's not nearly as much known about the trafficking and uptake and even just basic questions of metabolism about coenzyme Q as there is known about cholesterol.