Beer drinkers, rejoice. Israeli scientists are reporting the results of new research suggesting beer may help boost longevity.
Tel Aviv University researchers have discovered certain kinds of yeast share many significant genetic similarities with humans and that alcohol lengthens what are called "telomeres" — the end points of chromosomal DNA, implicated in aging and cancer.
The longer the telomeres, the longer the life span, the researchers noted.
"This is the first time anyone has analyzed a complex system in which all of the genes affecting it are known," said Martin Kupiec, who led the study published in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS Genetics. "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."
Telomeres, made of DNA and proteins, mark the ends of the strands of DNA in our chromosomes, the researchers explained. They are essential to ensuring that the DNA strands are repaired and copied. 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.
To reach their conclusions that alcohol can lengthen telomeres, the TAU researchers scanned 6,000 strains of the yeast, each with a different gene deactivated. They then conducted genetic tests on the strains with the longest and shortest telomeres, revealing that two genes — known as Rap1 and Rif1 — are the main players involved in telomere length.
The research expands on a 2004 study suggesting emotional stress causes the shortening of the telomeres characteristic of aging, presumably by generating free radicals in the cells. The researchers grew yeast cells in conditions that generate free radicals to test the effect on telomere length. They were surprised to find that the length did not change.
They then exposed the yeast cells to 12 other environmental stressors and found they had no effect on telomere length. But exposure to a 5-to-7 percent ethanol solution lengthened telomeres, while a low concentration of caffeine — similar to the amount found in a shot of espresso — shortened telomeres.
More laboratory work is needed to prove a causal relationship, not a mere correlation, between telomere length and aging or cancer, the researchers say. Only then will they know whether human telomeres respond to the same signals as yeast, potentially leading to medical treatments and dietary guidelines.
Until then, Kupiec suggested, "Try to relax and drink a little coffee and a little beer."
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