Yeast studies show that diet in early life matters for lifelong health

Yeast studies show that diet in early life matters for lifelong health

Yeast studies show that diet in early life matters for lifelong health

Key points:

  • Researchers from the Babraham Institute have shown that the content of diet in yeast, rather than caloric intake, influences yeast health in later stages of their lifecycle.
  • The different diet placed cells on a path to age healthily and avoid ageing pathologies, though they did not live longer.
  • While their results cannot be directly translated into humans, these findings show that healthy ageing can be achieved by optimising diet, if changes are made at an early stage in life.

Researchers at the Babraham Institute are proposing an alternative link between diet and ageing based on studies in yeast. Dr Jon Houseley and his team have published their experiments, showing that healthy ageing is achievable through dietary change without restriction by potentially optimising diet, and that ill-health is not an inevitable part of the ageing process.

Scientists have long known that caloric restriction - intentionally consuming far less calories than normal without becoming malnourished - improves health in later life and may even extend life. However, studies in mice show that caloric restriction really needs to be maintained throughout life to achieve this impact, and the health benefits disappear when a normal diet is resumed. Dr Houseley’s new research conducted in yeast suggests an alternative to calorie restriction can lead to improved health through the lifecycle.

“We show that diet in early life can switch yeast onto a healthier trajectory. By giving yeast a different diet without restricting calories we were able to suppress senescence, when cells no longer divide, and loss of fitness in aged cells.” Said Dr Dorottya Horkai, lead researcher on the study.

Rather than growing yeast on their usual glucose-rich diet, the researchers swapped their diet to galactose and observed that many molecular changes which normally accompany ageing did not occur. The cells grown on galactose remained just as fit as young cells even late in life, despite not living any longer, showing that the period of ill-health towards the end of life was dramatically reduced.

“Crucially, the dietary change only works when cells are young, and actually diet makes little difference in old yeast. It is hard to translate what youth means between yeast and humans, but all these studies point to the same trend - to live a long and healthy life, a healthy diet from an early age makes a difference.” explains Dr Houseley.

Yeast are good model organisms for studying ageing as they share many of the same cellular machinery as animals and humans. This avenue of research in yeast helps us to seek a more achievable way to improve healthy ageing though diet compared to sustained and severe calorie restriction, although more research is needed.


Notes to Editors

Publication reference

Horkai, D., et al., Dietary change without caloric restriction maintains a youthful profile in ageing yeast, PLOS Biology

Press contact

Honor Pollard, Communications Officer,

Image description: A researcher selects a colony of yeast from an agar plate.

Affiliated authors (in author order):

Dorottya Horkai, former postdoctoral researcher, Houseley lab

Hanane Hadj-Moussa, Postdoctoral research scientist, Houseley lab

Alex Whale, Postdoctoral research scientist, Houseley lab

Jon Houseley, Group leader, Epigenetics research programme

Research funding

This research was funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), part of UKRI.

About the Babraham Institute

The Babraham Institute undertakes world-class life sciences research to generate new knowledge of biological mechanisms underpinning ageing, development and the maintenance of health. Our research focuses on cellular signalling, gene regulation and the impact of epigenetic regulation at different stages of life. By determining how the body reacts to dietary and environmental stimuli and manages microbial and viral interactions, we aim to improve wellbeing and support healthier ageing. The Institute is strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, through Institute Strategic Programme Grants and an Institute Core Capability Grant and also receives funding from other UK research councils, charitable foundations, the EU and medical charities.


The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government. BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

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