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            A recent study done by Professor Martin Kupiec and his team at Tel Aviv University's Department of Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology has shed light on possible effects of the popular beverages beer and coffee. It is widely known that coffee and beer are on opposite spectrums when it comes to beverages; coffee picks you up and beer winds you down. Working with a type of yeast with genetic similarities to human genomes, they have found that caffeine and alcohol also have opposite effects on telomeres, which are end points of chromosomal DNA that are linked to aging and cancer. They found that caffeine shortens telomeres and alcohol lengthens them. Kupiec and his team believe these findings may be able to contribute to the prevention and treatment of diseases.

            Tolomeres are made of DNA and proteins and makeup the ends of the DNA present in our chromosomes. They are important in the process of properly repairing DNA and copying it, becoming shorter when chromosomes are copied into a new cell. This process eventually leads to the telomeres becoming too short, killing the cell. Fetal and cancer cells have the ability to avoid the eventual shortening of telomeres, which makes them such steady reproducers. These genetic factors were also addressed in a 2004 study by molecular biologist Elizabeth Blackburn, which focused on human aging. Kupiec's study, which expands on the subject, exposed yeast cells to twelve environmental stressors that included temperature, pH changes and various drugs and chemicals. Most stressors had no effect on telomere length. However, a small concentration of caffeine (equivalent to a shot of espresso) was found to shorten them and a solution that included approximately five-to-seven percent ethanol lengthened the telomeres.

            The TAU researchers sought to understand these discoveries by scanning six thousand strains of the yeast, each with a different gene deactivated, and then did tests on the strains with the longest and shortest telomeres. They discovered that the genes Rap1 and Rif1 were the main genes involved in determining environmental stressors and telomere length. There are four hundred genes that are known to interact and maintain telomere length, most of them being present in the human and yeast genomes.

            I believe this discovery is fascinating and that these scientists are on to something in further understanding the way our genetics behave. Because the experiment does not set out to make any groundbreaking theories or prove a complex argument, I think that much more research is needed to have a more clear idea of how alcohol and caffeine can affect our genetics. The researchers themselves even said that this experiment only shows a small correlation, not yet a breakthrough link. I also believe that understanding the behavior of these certain parts of our DNA can definitely improve medicine and treatment in the future. For now though, these results aren't something to base your dietary guidelines or habits on. Due to their role in cancer and aging in the human body I think that continued research on telomeres and their characteristics will become a more valued field in science as time goes on.

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Just to clarify, the causes of the shortening or lengthening the telomeres are caffeine and ethanol, not coffee and beer, correct? I just had to make sure before I drink a twelve pack tonight and have to email my professors tomorrow morning that I missed class because I was too busy lengthening my telomeres last night. Seriously though, this could have huge implications for the medical community if more research is done. Obviously, the most important part is caffeine's ability to shorten the telomeres, which could effectively combat cancer cells if we can somehow figure out how to make it work on them. It's cool finding out that the scientific community is discovering new information such as this at a decent pace. I am very curious to find out what the effects of lengthening telomeres are, and if that could be of any use to us as well.

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