Genetic Craving for a Drink or Smoke

Author:  Minnie Rai

Institution:  University of Western Ontairo
Date:  August 2007

Last week, a study was published by researchers at the University of Montreal linking genomic factors to alcohol and tobacco consumption. This study explored the theory that an individual's alcohol and tobacco intake is due to a genetic predisposition rather than the influence of external forces. Researchers taking part in this discovery managed to pinpoint specific chromosomes in human DNA that link a person's desire to consume alcohol or tobacco. The results were published in the study, Genome-wide Scan for Genomic Determinants of Alcohol and Tobacco Use in French Canadian Families.

Lead author of the study, Majid Nikpay stated, "We have found evidence of linkage and association for several genomic regions harboring genes with potential pathophysiological functions relating to alcohol and smoking."

The study included 120 families, approximately 900 individuals from the Saguenay-Lac-St. Jean region of Quebec. Among each of the families, there was at least one sibling pair affected by hypertension (high blood pressure) and dyslipidemia (excess lipid levels in bloodstream). The team of researchers required these variables to help lead to an understanding behind the relationship between a disorder like hypertension, which can be marked by excessive alcohol and tobacco, and the genes linked to alcohol and tobacco.

The phenotypic (observable trait of a living thing) data was gained through questionnaires, asking individuals about their own tobacco and alcohol use. The findings revealed a prevalence of alcohol and tobacco among males versus females.

Using genetic tools like micro-satellites (markers used to study genetic links from one person to another), the genotypic results revealed that among all the chromosomes that make up a person's DNA, chromosome one had a region that related to alcohol and tobacco use, along with chromosomes three and four yielding areas related to smoking.

The data from this research has the potential to help scientists treat those who suffer from alcoholism and addiction in a more effective manner, the differences between alcohol and tobacco usage between males and females, and even help those understand why they go for that second drink or smoke.

By: Minnie Rai

Reviewed by: Pooja Ghatalia

Published by: Konrad Sawicki