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Scientists decode coffee's genetic secrets

Updated: 2014-09-09 15:11

The genome of coffee has been sequenced, revealing how one of the world's favorite drinks evolved and providing insights into the beverage's flavor and aroma, an international team of researchers said Thursday.

The findings, published in the U.S. journal Science, may also help scientists improve coffee breeding, accelerate the development of new coffee varieties, and increase the resistance of coffee plants to environmental stresses like climate change and pests.

"The coffee genome helps us understand what's exciting about coffee -- other than that it wakes me up in the morning," Victor Albert, professor of biological sciences at the University at Buffalo, said in a statement.

The team sequenced the genome of Coffea canephora, commonly known as Robusta coffee, which accounts for about 30 percent of the world's coffee production.

Coffea canephora is one of the two most important species of coffee commercially, along with Coffee arabica, which accounts for most of the rest of world coffee production due to its less acidic taste, a result of lower caffeine levels.

Compared to several other plant species including the grape and tomato, coffee harbors larger families of genes that relate to the production of alkaloid and flavonoid compounds, which contribute to qualities such as coffee aroma and the bitterness of beans.

Coffee also has an expanded collection of N-methyltransferases, enzymes that are involved in making caffeine, the study showed.

Upon taking a closer look, the researchers found that coffee's caffeine enzymes are more closely related to other genes within the coffee plant than to those in tea and chocolate.

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