Coffee or Beer? The Choice Could Affect Your Genome

Coffee and beer are polar opposites in the beverage world. Coffee picks you up, and beer winds you down.

Now Prof. Martin Kupiec and his team at Tel Aviv University's Department of Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology have discovered that the beverages may also have opposite effects on your genome. Working with a kind of yeast that shares many important genetic similarities with humans, the researchers found that caffeine shortens and alcohol lengthens telomeres -- the end points of chromosomal DNA, implicated in aging and cancer.

"For the first time we've identified a few environmental factors that alter telomere length, and we've shown how they do it," said Prof. Kupiec. "What we learned may one day contribute to the prevention and treatment of human diseases."

Researchers from TAU's Blavatnik School of Computer Science and Columbia University's Department of Biological Sciences collaborated on the research, published in PLOS Genetics.

Between death and immortality

Telomeres, made of DNA and proteins, mark the ends of the strands of DNA in our chromosomes. They are essential to ensuring that the DNA strands are repaired and copied correctly. Every time a cell duplicates, the chromosomes are copied into the new cell with slightly shorter telomeres. Eventually, the telomeres become too short, and the cell dies. Only fetal and cancer cells have mechanisms to avoid this fate; they go on reproducing forever.