Scientists discover genetic basis of caffeine

Victoria Pagan

Caffeine intake can be directly correlated to two specific genes in our DNA, according to a study released by a team of biological researchers.

A group of researchers from various schools of science and other biological research institutions collaborated to compare the genes and caffeine intake of more than 47,000 Americans of European descent. Marilyn Cornelis, the main author of the study’s research article, said they used the food frequency questionnaires of five separate studies to compile the caffeine intake information of those in their sample groups.

“I was amazed that we found something significant in a very biologically plausible gene,” Cornelis said. “These [questionnaires] usually don’t capture factors very well, but amazingly, this approach was very effective in tracing dietary habits.”

Cornelis said the researchers found two genes that are directly associated with caffeine intake. The two genes — CYP 1A2, associated with caffeine metabolism, and AHR, which regulates the first gene ­— can be found in everyone’s DNA but with variations of the genes.

She said caffeine is the most widely consumed psychoactive substance in the world.

“Caffeine is controversial because many scientists argue about whether or not someone can be addicted to it,” Cornelis said.

Cornelis said the study took into consideration that caffeine intake and cigarette smoking are positively correlated.

“Smoking can induce a gene or increase its activity,” Cornelis said. “It was interesting to see how smoking might influence our results. We excluded smokers from our original analysis and still found the same effects from the analysis that we reported.”

Psychology senior Gustavo Padron said his family gets all caffeine intake from coffee.

“My grandparents would drink their coffee black,” Padron said. “My parents have a cup of coffee every day first thing before they do anything, and I started drinking coffee in high school.”

Undeclared sophomore Annette Flores said she hopes she doesn’t develop her family’s caffeine habits.

“Coffee definitely runs in my family,” Flores said. “My dad has to have at least one cup of coffee every morning, and if he doesn’t get one, he gets a bad headache until he gets his cup.”