This small, harmful molecule is formed when ethanol is oxidized in the liver and intestines. Next, acetaldehyde should be oxidized to acetic acid and in this form it should be excreted from the body. However, both reactions are catalyzed by separate enzymes, the speed of which may vary from person to person. Someone is able to quickly carry out both reactions and practically does not suffer from a hangover, while someone else’s acetaldehyde accumulates in unpleasant and even dangerous amounts. This occurs mainly in the intestines, where aldehyde is converted to acid much more slowly than in the liver. This toxin is responsible for a number of severe alcohol intoxication, especially familiar to East Asians, who inherited the gene for not too fast acetaldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH).
However, the inability to quickly metabolize acetaldehyde can be a stroke of luck in curbing alcohol cravings. According to statistics, about a quarter of severe alcoholics hardly experience severe hangover symptoms. Drugs such as disulfiram, which suppress the work of ALDH, are even used to treat alcoholism, with the result that moderate amounts of alcohol are very unpleasant experiences. But the rest of the hangover cannot be called useful, it is not for nothing that there are so many “reliable” recipes for dealing with it. In 2019, there were at least one more of them. According to microbiologists at the ZBiotics start-up Zach Abbott and John Oliver, few of their ideas have attracted such attention from investors. Write it down.
Back in 2016, Abbott and his team began experimenting with Bacillus subtilis, a harmless soil bacteria. Today, these bacilli are a popular model organism for biological experiments and are widely used in the industrial production of enzymes. And if they successfully synthesize amylases and other proteins in bioreactors, then they can cope with acetaldehyde dehydrogenase, which is necessary for urgent neutralization of the “hangover” toxin.
The bacteria’s own gene for this enzyme was replaced by the human gene ALDH2 using homologous recombination. This is an old and proven method in which similar areas are exchanged between the bacterial chromosome and the DNA fragment introduced into the cell. This is how the bacilli of the ZB183 line gained the ability to produce human ALDH: “Drink before you drink”, – recommend the creators of GM bacteria, offering them as part of the “probiotic” ZBiotics. It is assumed that, once in the intestine, microbes will take over the utilization of a significant part of the resulting toxin.
Despite the dubious validity of the drug’s effectiveness, in 2016-2019, the ZBiotics startup managed to attract about $ 3.3 million in investments and launch production.
The ZBiotics website carefully avoids any mention of the drug helping to prevent or treat any painful conditions, or the company will have to get caught up in a long and expensive FDA approval process. However, the creators of the cocktail do not even report on clinical trials. They just sent out about 10 thousand bubbles to those interested and received “94% positive” reviews. The article by Abbott and his colleagues was delayed for peer review in the Journal of Toxicology, and its publication is constantly delayed. And they already avoid calling their product probiotic. The problem is that there is still no definite evidence of a positive effect from taking such drugs, be it yogurt or a hangover remedy. According to some reports, the swallowed “beneficial bacteria” are unable to gain a foothold in the established intestinal microflora, and some of them die, and most are excreted naturally. In addition, the microflora is so individual and diverse that, apparently, there is no universal and uniform recipe for its correction.