NEWS

Scientists use caffeine to control genes—and treat diabetic mice with coffee

The proof of concept in mice works with tea, too.

In the distant future, your morning cup of joe may not just perk up your brain—it may perk up your genes, too. At least, that’s the optimistic outlook of some synthetic biologists in Switzerland.

A team led by Martin Fussenegger of ETH Zurich in Basel has shown that caffeine can be used as a trigger for synthetic genetic circuitry, which can then in turn do useful things for us—even correct or treat medical conditions. For a buzz-worthy proof of concept, the team engineered a system to treat type 2 diabetes in mice with sips of coffee, specifically Nespresso Volluto coffee. Essentially, when the animals drink the coffee (or any other caffeinated beverage), a synthetic genetic system in cells implanted in their abdomens switches on. This leads to the production of a hormone that increases insulin production and lowers blood sugar levels—thus successfully treating their diabetes after a simple morning brew…