Caffeine and alcohol are contradictory to each other. On one hand, caffeine stimulates the brain activities and makes us more alert, while, on the other hand alcohol decelerates the neuronal activity, slowing down our activities.

Scientists around the globe have discovered that these contradictory beverages may have opposite effects on human genome. A research has shown that caffeine reduces while alcohol enhances the end points of chromosomal DNA, i.e., telomeres which has its implications in aging and cancer. The research was done on yeast that has similar genome as humans. These environmental factors which are altering the chromosomal DNA (length of telomere), might help in the cure and treatment of many diseases like, Cancer.

The posterior end of DNA, telomeres is composed of DNA and proteins. It plays an important role in ensuring whether the DNA strands are repaired and copied correctly. With the multiplication of cells, the chromosomes are copied into the new cell with slightly shorter telomeres. Gradually, the telomeres become too short, and the cell dies. This is the normal phenomenon of cell cycle. The cancerous and fetal cells have the efficacy to multiply infinitely and grow indefinitely. In those cells, the telomeres don't reduce their length.

The researchers around the globe suggested that the emotional and mental stress causes the shortening of the telomeres and cell death. The free radicals are generated in the cell and cell number starts reducing abnormally resulting in early aging. The researchers tested this in their laboratories on yeast cells as their genome is similar to humans. The yeast cells were cultured and grown in a condition so that they could generate free radicals. But contrarily, results showed that there was no change in the length of telomeres in the yeast cells. Then the yeast cells were exposed to other environmental stressors like, temperature, pressure, pH, chemicals, drugs, etc. But even these stressors were unsuccessful in bringing any change in the telomere length. This motivated the scientists to see the effect of alcohol and caffeine on telomere length. And surprisingly, the low concentration of caffeine shortened the length of DNA and 5-7% ethanol solution aggravated their length.

The result came as a shock to the scientists. They started to analyze the results and relate it with humans. They repeated the same experiment with caffeine and ethanol solution on around 6,000 strains of the yeast, each with a different gene deactivated to check their telomere length. After this, they performed genetic tests on these strains with the longest and shortest telomeres. They found that Rap1 and Rif1 are the two key genes which associate the environmental stressors with telomere length in the yeast cells. There were some 400 genes interacting with each other to maintain the length of the telomere. Thus, the researchers evidenced the importance of this gene network in maintaining the stability of the complete genome. Since most of these yeast genes are also present in the human genome, so we can relate the same condition with humans as well. This shows that caffeine and alcohol have strong impact on our genome.

This is a very novel and recent piece of information. This breakthrough research can help in the treatment of cancer. The telomere length turns out to be a very exact and precise factor which needs to be protected from other environmental stress factors. However, we are still at a very nascent stage to claim anything. Further research work is needed to prove that alterations in the telomere length are the causative reason for aging and cancer. This will lead to treatment and preventive measures. This can be linked to clinical applications in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

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Geetanjali Murari
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