Strengthening food with specially developed proteins could make our bodies more resistant to the ageing process, according to a study.
Steaks and chicken fillets laced with some rare 'isotope-enhanced' proteins could strengthen cells and protect them against oxidation - oxidation is considered a major cause of ageing.
In small-scale studies, Mikhail Shchepinov, a former Oxford University scientist, has found nematode worms - used extensively in ageing research - live 10% longer when they are fed nutrients enriched with a heavy isotope of hydrogen, deuterium.
The research is untested in larger animals and many previous attempts to achieve large lifespan extensions have failed to work in rodents and other animals. Many actually resulted in an increase in cancer risk.
Dr Shchepinov believes the heavy isotopes extend lifespan by making bonds within the delicate molecules inside and around our cells harder to break. 'Because these bonds are so much more stable, it should be possible to slow down the process of oxidation and ageing,' he notes.
Similar experiments on amino acids, nucleic acids and fats called lipids, using heavy forms of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen could be on the way.
The idea has received a mixed reception from scientists in the field. Some point out that deuterium is toxic in moderate quantities, while others said it would be almost impossible to eat the right amount of fortified food to have a beneficial effect.
Nick Bostrum, director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University, told the Royal Society of Chemistry: 'I don't expect this method to furnish the elixir of life. Don't stop eating your vegetables, just yet.'