Epigenetics influences genome. Choice of drink affects gene expression.

eA groundbreaking study, published in PLOS genetics, has demonstrated that the beverages that you consume impact on your genome. Prof. Martin Kupiec and his team at Tel Aviv University’s Department of Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology invesitaged the effects of two popular drinks, coffee and beer.

The researchers used a type of yeast that share many similarities with humans and found that caffeine shortens and alcohol lengthens telomeres. Telomeres are found at the end of chromosal DNA and are responsible for aging and cancer. They consist of a region of DNA at the end of a chromosome that protects the start of the genetic coding sequence against shortening during successive replications. 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.

“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.”

Yeast cells were exposed to 12 other environmental stressors with little effect on telomere length. However, two substances in particular, caffeine and ethanol affected the length of the telomeres. The researchers found that two genes, Rap1 and Rif1, are the genes responsible for reacting to environmental stressors and telomere length. In total, some 400 genes interact (most also found in humans), to maintain telomere length.

“This is the first time anyone has analyzed a complex system in which all of the genes affecting it are known,” said Prof. Kupiec. “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.”


Gal Hagit Romano, Yaniv Harari, Tal Yehuda, Ariel Podhorzer, Linda Rubinstein, Ron Shamir, Assaf Gottlieb, Yael Silberberg, Dana Pe’er, Eytan Ruppin, Roded Sharan, Martin Kupiec. Environmental Stresses Disrupt Telomere Length Homeostasis. PLoS Genetics, 2013; 9 (9): e1003721 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1003721

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