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Amla passes fruit fly test

New Delhi, May 17: A herbal formulation containing gooseberry, or amla, prescribed in traditional Ayurvedic medicine appears to help fruit flies tolerate high temperatures and starvation, and gain lifespan by a modest 10 per cent, scientists have said.

The scientists said the herbal compound called Amlaka rasayana, claimed by traditional Ayurvedic medicine to increase body strength and enhance longevity, appears to bolster the capacity of fruit flies to withstand heat and starvation stress.

The researchers from the Banaras Hindu University (BHU), the Arya Vaidya Shala, Kottakkal, and Manipal University, published the results of their experiments with fruit flies this week in the international journal PLoS One. While previous studies have explored the physiological effects of amla formulations, the scientists said their results are based on statistical rigour and large sample sizes.

The researchers added tiny amounts of the compound into the meals of fruit flies. “The improved heat tolerance is dramatic,” said Subhash Lakhotia, a senior zoologist at the BHU and principal investigator of the study.

The flies are typically knocked down after short periods of exposure to temperatures above 38C. The number that collapsed after the exposure was significantly lower among flies that received the herbal supplement than among the flies that did not.

In another experiment, the researchers denied the flies solid food, but allowed them only water. The flies that fed on the herbal supplement had greater tolerance to starvation, more of them surviving, compared to those that did not get the supplement.

While fruit flies have long reigned as model animals for biomedical research, the scientists say the new study establishes the validity of the fruit fly model as a test organism to investigate the scientific basis of Ayurveda.

“Flies have been used for years to understand many human diseases, including cancer and neurodegeneration,” Lakhotia told The Telegraph. “We now have greater confidence to test traditional herbal formulations in fly models of neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington’s, Alzheimer’s, or Parkinson’s ,” he said.

The scientists also fed fruit flies a traditional formulation called Rasa-sindoor, an organo-metallic derivative of mercury, and found no effect on the life span or on starvation tolerance, but observed even better heat tolerance than achieved with Amlaka rasayana.

While the experiments on the flies were conducted at the BHU, collaborators at Kottakkal prepared the formulations through standardised recipes. “Future studies will be aimed at understanding the physiological effects that such formulations have on the flies,” Lakhotia said.