A year ago today I was sitting in Human Biology 109, learning the significance of fainting goat syndrome in everyday human existence. And while my professor played a particular youtube video on repeat and babbled on about the dangers of myotonia congenita, the genetic disorder that the aforementioned fainting goats suffered from, I contemplated a variety of topics that had little to do with animals with uncontrollable muscle contraction.
One such topic: How badly I wanted a pipping cup of Jo at 8:30 in the morning, the time of my biology lecture, and how many Wellesley biddies I was willing to sacrifice in the process of acquiring said cup. I am not ashamed to admit that when my professor asked me in the subsequent office hours if I thought he should incorporate any particular topics into the course, I responded, “Caffeine. And make it interactive, kinesthetic, a learning experience in which we get to sip up the experience.”
Though he never listened to my advice (which was surprising given his well-known Starbucks propensity), I determined to conduct my own background research on the subject. If I was an addict, at the very least I should know the risks involved in my precarious behavior. My only major discovery, though, was that I would probably have issues reproducing at the onset of sexual activity. However, since I’d settled on adopting, this didn’t seem like too major a risk.
Today I– and by I, I mean my mother, the biologist– came across a new piece of caffeine-inspired literature, and this time I paid attention to the text. Apparently we have a genetic predisposition towards caffeine. There are two genes that have been linked to caffeine metabolism: CYP1A2- directly involved with caffeine digestion and AHR, which plays a role in regulating CYP1A2.
While every person has copies of both of these genes, we have varying versions of these two traits. In a recent study, involving over 47000 subjects across North America and Europe, researchers found that those with the more caffeine-seeking version of CYP1A2 drank an average of 38 more milligrams of caffeine each day than those with a less coffee-loving version of the gene. The same basic differential applied to those possessing a more caffeine-dependent version of the AHR gene.
Needless to say, my mother quickly concluded that both she and I are carriers of the coffee-loving version of each gene. And well, I think that just about excuses my unhealthy obsession with all things caffeine-related, right? I mean, we can’t help it– it’s in our DNA.