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Genes and caffeine

October 8, 2014

Genome researchers at the University of Buffalo determined that coffee trees evolved the ability to produce caffeine independently from tea and cacao, using somewhat different enzymes. But… coffee is more closely related to tea, in the division asterid, than either are to cacao, in the division rosid. And there are at least three orders of asterids with species that make caffeine: Gentianales (coffee), Ericales (tea), and Aquifoliales (yerba mate, yaupon holly). Yes, you can make a caffeinated tea from yaupon leaves. Its scary species name refers to its berries. I think the genetic story here is more complex than “coffee different.”

I start the morning with tea. Then move to coffee. And merrily drink caffeine right through the late afternoon. It does me good. That might be in my genes: a Harvard researcher has discovered six new genetic variants that influence how a person reacts to ingested caffeine. Presumably that adds to earlier research on the same topic.

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