Researchers aim to link alcohol abuse, DNA with saliva sampling


The Rutgers University Cell and DNA Repository strives to explore the relationship between excessive alcohol consumption and genetic makeup by using an unfamiliar method.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism granted the RUCDR a $10 million grant last month for its new way to purify DNA by testing saliva samples, said Jay Tischfield, chair of the Department of Genetics.

“In the past few years, surveys have shown that binge drinking has become very popular among college students,” said Tischfield, who is also director of the Human Genetics Institute of New Jersey. “The current survey will consider more than just the environmental factors and will try to determine if the drinking was also affected by any specific DNA sequences.”

RUCDR received the grant to help with research for the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, he said.

While similar surveys that consider factors such as age and ethnicity in relation to alcohol consumption have been conducted in the past, Tischfield said the current epidemiologic survey is unique because it collects saliva samples from all participants.

Commissioned to pull DNA samples from saliva, RUCDR plans to use a new method that employs magnetic beads to extract the genetic codes, he said. The method is automated and ensures the organization of dealing with more than 46,000 saliva samples.

Once the DNA is purified, it will be studied to see if any patterns exist between gene sequences and alcohol use, Tischfield said. The samples will then be distributed to DNA sequencing laboratories that will further examine the DNA for the same links.

“Alcohol abuse affects thousands of lives across the country,” he said. “This survey and the research we do will hopefully lead to a better understanding of its causes and effects.”

The survey is scheduled for distribution in February 2012 through a general cross-section of the entire country to accumulate accurate results, Tischfield said.

He said previous epidemiological surveys were helpful in formulating treatment plans for those who suffer from alcohol-related illness.

But Tischfield said there is hope that data collected in the wave of surveys will help establish future national policies and healthcare reforms.

Rafael Bravo, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said the survey is interesting because it makes clear how the relationship between alcohol use and genetics has been long contended.

“I think it has a lot more to do with nurture than it does nature,” Bravo said. “Anyone who consistently uses alcohol is more likely to become addicted to it because it’s a drug.”

But Bharat Verma, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said he disagreed, citing that genetics might play a larger role in alcohol abuse than previously believed.

“So much of who we are is determined by our DNA,” Verma said. “The way we look and what we’re attracted to is determined by our genes. Why wouldn’t our propensity to consume alcohol also be determined by them?”


By Rina Mody

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