Friday, December 6, 2013

The Long and Short of Coffee and Beer

I looove sciency-wiency stuff about beer—and Science Daily has delivered on that front.

They're reporting, that a new study by a group of molecular microbiologist at Tel Aviv University has revealed that while coffee gives you a lift, and beer mellows you out, the exact opposite may be happening to your genome—a genome being the entirety of an organism's heredity information encoded in DNA or RNA. Studying yeast that shares some genetic similarities to humans, the Israeli research team identified, according to Professor Martin Kupiec.
"...a few environmental factors that alter telomere length, and we've shown how they do it. What we learned may one day contribute to the prevention and treatment of human diseases."
Telemeres are the end bits of a chromosome that protect the gene sequence from deteriorating or fusing with other chromosomes. They're kind of like an aglet on a shoe lace—only smaller. Much, much smaller. When a cell duplicates, chromosomes are copied, but the telemeres shorten with each duplication. At some point the telemere becomes too short to protect the chromosome, and the cell dies. It's these telemeres that might be are affected by coffee or beer consumption.

The research team exposed the aforementioned yeast cells to a variety of environmental stressors, and noticed that a low concentration of caffeine shortened the micro-organism's telemores, while exposure to alcohol, in a ratio similarly found in beer, lengthened them. The testing reveled that some 400 of the yeast's genes—many of which are also found in the human genome—are involved with maintaining its telemore lengths, but it's genes Rap1 and Rif1 that are the main contributors.

So all we have to do is drink more beer, right? Long good, short bad.

Not quite. First, telemere testing on human genetic material hasn't happened yet, so while the yeast genome is similar to humans, the researchers don't know if we are effected in the same way as the micro-organism. Secondly, it's not necessarily about increasing telemere length. It's genomic stability that we're aiming for. Think about it like the Three Bears—not too short, not too long, juuuuust right. Kupiec, continues,
"This is the first time anyone has analyzed a complex system in which all of the genes affecting it are known. It turns out that telomere length is something that's very exact, which suggests that precision is critical and should be protected from environmental effects." 
More testing needs to be conducted to see what the connection is between telemere length and environmental stress, and if there a correlation with diseases like cancer—or in fact, simply aging—in humans.

My standard routine for coffee and beer is two cups of Joe in the morning, two pints of beer in the evening. I'm still not a big fan of coffee-flavored beer, but I might be re-evaluating my position for the sake of efficiency.

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