December 6, 2013
How Beer And Coffee Can Affect Your Longevity
[ Watch the Video: Will Beer Or Coffee Contribute To Your Aging? ]
Alan McStravick for redOrbit.com - Your Universe OnlineEach time our cells replicate in our bodies, the end points of chromosomal DNA - known as telomeres - copy themselves to the new cell, shortening with each subsequent copy until they can no longer keep the cell viable, resulting in its eventual death.
However, a group of researchers from Tel Aviv University’s (TAU) Department of Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology collaborated with the Blavatnik School of Computer Science at TAU and Columbia University’s Department of Biological Sciences to study yeasts that share important genetic similarities with humans. Their findings are certain to perk the ears of the beer drinker in your life.
“For the first time, we’ve identified a few environmental factors that alter telomere length, and we’ve shown how they do it,” said professor Martin Kupiec. “What we learned may one day contribute to the prevention and treatment of human diseases.” The team published the results of their study in the journal PLOS Genetics.
The yeasts were subjected to caffeine and alcohol, both of which showed they could effectively change the DNA linked to aging and cancer. A shot of espresso and a mug of beer present distinctly different outcomes in an individual. That coffee will hype you up while a frosty brew helps you to unwind. And these beverages, the team says, may also have opposite effects on your genome.
As noted above, telomeres – made of DNA and proteins – shorten each time they replicate. Only fetal and cancer cells behave differently. These two types of cell are capable of reproducing forever.
This most recent study built on the 2004 study by Nobel Prize-winning molecular biologist professor Elizabeth Blackburn. Blackburn’s study suggested emotional stressors could bring on the shortening of telomeres. The stressors and subsequent telomere shortening, a characteristic of aging, generates free radicals in the cell, Blackburn presumed.
The TAU-based team grew their yeasts in conditions meant to generate free radicals, leading to cell breakdown. They wanted to test the effect on telomere length and were surprised to learn there was no change in telomere length.
From this point, the team then exposed the yeast to 12 other environmental stressors. They found most stressors – like temperature and pH variances resultant from certain drugs and chemicals – had no effect on the length of the telomeres. They discovered, however, low levels of caffeine shortened telomeres while ethanol lengthened them.
In all, the team scanned 6,000 strains of the yeast, deactivating a different gene in each one. They found two genes, Rap1 and Rif1, are essential at mediating environmental stressors and telomere length. Nearly 400 individual genes work together to maintain telomere length. This, say the researchers, highlights the need for future study of this gene network in its role of maintaining the stability of the genome. Also interesting is that most of the yeast genes are also present in the human genome.
“This is the first time anyone has analyzed a complex system in which all of the genes affecting it are known,” says 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.”
At this time, the study proves only correlation between telomere length and aging or cancer. The team concedes further laboratory work is required to establish a relationship of causality. That work will show whether human telomeres respond to the same signals as yeast. If they do, as the team believes they will, scientists will use the findings to develop medical treatments and dietary guidelines.
The long and short of it, for now, is that if you want to lengthen your telomeres, thereby lengthening the potential life of your cells, you may want to add a few 12 ounce curls to your exercise and diet regimen.